one basic tenant of business success

Technology should simplify and make things easier for the customer/end user. There’s really no other purpose. Technology for the sake of technology is, well, annoying at best. But then anything for the sake of itself is inefficient, ineffective, and dumb. Case in point: my  local newspaper recently ran an article on a program to encourage shopping at local businesses.  It sounded like a cool program, but if I wanted to find out more about how to participate or which businesses were involved I had to either go to a website or use my smartphone to scan a QR code. Dumb, dumber, and desperate. Too much, too late.

I get that this is a multimedia world, but there is one basic tenant of business success that should never be overlooked: make it as easy and simple as possible for customers to give you their money. Amazon, Apple, etc. are all great businesses, but their genius is (say it with me) making it as easy and simple as possible for their customers to give them their money. It’s not the books that set Amazon apart, and I’d argue that it’s not even really the prices (although those help), it’s that they make it really freakin’ easy to buy a book. Ditto iTunes. This is really what innovation is all about – making it easier for people to solve their problems (even the problems they didn’t know they had).

There is a minimart/gas station near my house that I buy 80% of my gas from even though it is 1) out of my way; and 2) more expensive. So what’s their competitive advantage? I don’t have to pre-pay. I can pull up to the pump, fill my tank, grab my favorite source of carbonated caffeine, pay all at once, and leave. Every other place makes me pay first, which means that I either have to do two transactions, and, if I’m paying cash, walk back and forth to the cashier a couple of times. I will pay more because they have made it as easy and simple as possible for me to give them my money.

So the newspaper, in a very misguided effort to be relevant, has made it more difficult for me to get the information I need. I instantly stopped caring about a program I’d otherwise be curious about. Them forcing me to go to my phone is just as silly as, say, Amazon’s Kindle telling me to go find a dictionary when I ask it to look up a word. But we can learn from this editor’s mistakes. In an ideal world, everyone would be forced to  voluntarily use their own products and services to experience it from the customer/end users point of view.

If you’re in HR, just how easy is it to apply for a job at your company? Are there any hoops you’re making folks jump through that could be put off until later? (For example, do you really, truly need to get everyone’s SSN on their initial application? Here’s a hint – the answer is no and you’re driving away top candidates if your automated process insists on it.) Do you actively seek ways to make it easier for candidates? Do you explain the process to them up front? Do you keep them informed and regularly updated on their status or do you force them to waste their (and your) time by initiating all communication with you?

If you’re a small business, do you accept all forms of payment? If you can’t process credit and debit cards, you’re not really serious about being in business. (No, seriously, these businesses exist.)

If someone calls your business, do they talk to a person who can actually resolve their problem/concern/request/order/desperate attempt to buy something from you? Or, and I’m thinking about the freight company that made a concerted effort to not deliver my new bicycle, do you have an automated voice “recognition” system that doesn’t actually recognize voice commands and eventually connects you with a minimally trained and hard to understand person who insists on reading the script even when the script doesn’t apply?

Does your website load superfast and is it easy to navigate? No matter how cool the graphics are, many of your potential customers have about a 1.6 second attention span. Too slow? Too hard to figure out how to get the right info? Good bye.

Examples go on and on. The principle is simple, but easy to get wrong when we think about what would make the shopping/buying/applying/etc. process most easiest for the company instead of what would make it most useful to the customer.



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