Benchmark Business Group

Internal Graduation

May 16, 2017

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This month we've been focused on graduating your business to the next level. We already mentioned ways to graduate your business with an updated vision, new ideas and with people. This week our focus is on: areas of technology, customer service, and products in your business. Do any of these areas in your business need to go back to school? Do they need to be improved and innovated?
Technology
Technology keeps innovating faster and faster. It seems as soon as you purchase software, an app, or computer, there is a better one. With this rapid change, it's hard to balance when to update your technology and when to keep it. There is a balance between the cost of investing in technology and the return on investment of increased efficiency, and user experience. The impact new technology will have on a business, and whether it is worth the investment of money, time and resources should be evaluated on at least an annual basis for most businesses.
So how do you know when to make technology changes or when to make major over hauls of your automation? The answer is, you don't always know. It's impossible to keep up with all the new technology, but, here are some things you can do to keep your business educated and ready to graduate to new technology when needed:
  • Review on a regular basis what you currently have and consider:
    • Old solutions may have had huge impacts such as cutting your delivery time in half, but are they still as efficient today?
    • Does your current solution take longer than when you adopted the technology?
    • Is the market demanding different results: faster delivery, easier access, mobile options, etc.?
  • The status of the companies that provided and/or created the technology that you use.  Are they still in business?  Are they still supporting the versions that you have? 
  • Sometimes technology doesn't need to be replaced, but can be taken to the next level by installing updates and patches.  Work closely with your vendors and keep a log to help systematically track updates and maintenance.
  • Talk to your employees to find out what they see as a problem with your current technology and what solutions they think would help the business reach its goals.
  •  Research new technology solutions. Make it a discipline for your business to be technology aware by scheduling time to research new solutions. Search the web for different products. Talk to vendors. Or, visit a technology store and start asking questions. You could even visit a competitor and similar business and discover what they have in place. (Research can be a good project for an intern.)
Customer Service
Service is the engagement of customers within your business and involves the entire experience a customer has including: interactions before the sale, during the buying process, and of course as they receive the results of your products and services. We discussed in last week's insight that customers and demographics change, which means it may be time to graduate your service to a different level. There are many elements that can cause current service processes to become less desirable today than in the past including, but not limited to: changes in demographics, your team adopting bad habits, new employee training not being up to original quality, etc. It may be time to engage new ideas, needs, and desires of the newer generation, and the changing needs of your established clients.
An excellent way to take your business to the next level is to create new and better customer experiences. Especially with the technology changes (as mentioned previously), customers have increasing expectations on quick access to information, and faster service. Consider these suggestions as you think through innovating your customers experience:
  • Be your own customer and evaluate the entire customer experience from their point of view.  If you find it hard to view your business from the customer's point of view, consider finding someone to be a secret shopper for your business.
  • Have customers give you feedback on the current experience and ways to improve for their needs and expectations.
  • Log customer complaints and compliments.  Use this log to look for patterns for what needs to be different as well as what your business is doing well.
  • As related in our previous article, be sure to engage your employees in their thoughts and opinions on how you can improve your customers' experience.
Of course, you may not want to make every suggestion a new process, but being objective and gathering others' ideas on what needs to change will give you the intelligence needed make informed decisions.
Products
You also need to look at how you can take your products (including services) to the next level.  Depending on the industry, the market demand, environment, and your business practices your products may change often, may be restricted from changing much, or could need updating because you haven't had the chance to evaluate them. To evaluate the need to take your products to the next level consider:
  • Product sales: What products are not selling well?  Are there any that are overstocked?  Would different sales techniques help?  Which products are selling well?  Is there a way to sell more? Could we bundle products to increase sales?
  • Customer requests:  Are there any customer requests that your business has to refer elsewhere or simply can't fulfill?
  • More and more businesses are identifying the footprint their products have on the environment. Customers are increasingly more educated on the impact a product or even the way it is produced has for future generations. Therefore businesses today need to be more and more aware of these social responsibilities and how to respond to these concerns.
  • Certain products are trendy and have a limited time frame. For example, whenever a new children's movie is released all the products for the story and characters flood the shelves, but eventually they fade or another movie is introduced. Your business may not involve children's movies, but it may need to consider the trendiness of products to determine if they need to become more relevant, or simply removed from your offerings.
  • Is it time to graduate your products style, packaging, or marketing? Your marketing and packaging may need to be refreshed to attract the new generations or the changing needs of your current customer base. It may be time to bring in outside ideas from a marketing research firm, or have a marketing consultant give you recommendations.
Our challenge this week is to look for ways to graduate your business internally; through product(s), the customer experience, and also technology.

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