Stuart R. Crawford (Calgary, AB - Business Development Manager of IT Matters)
In today’s world of instant gratification, short attention spans and lack of patience, the one-strike approach to dealing with business is becoming a main stream concern for many small business consulting firms. Add this onto the ongoing challenges associated with employee shortages and an ever increasing demand for services is stretching many Small Business Specialists to the breaking point. We are definitely in a one-strike society!
How do you deal with a customer that expects you to drop everything to take care of their needs? Do you risk jumping to their shouts for immediate attention and risk damaging a relationship with a long time client? Do you also risk not taking care of them and they turn to a competitor that can service their needs right away? Today’s world of instant gratification is leading to a ever increasing lack of loyalty between IT vendors and customers who flip flop their way through a lineup card of providers, calling around to see who can take care of them first and perhaps the cheapest. Is this where you want to focus your efforts?
The question is too many of us, do you even do it to our own service people? Image this, it is Saturday morning, the temperature is very cold out and your furnace quits. You have a regular furnace service guy that has provided you with the best service throughout the life of your home, providing you with a scheduled maintenance plan and reminders about changing your filters and other tidbits of good information. You call your furnace guy and he can’t take care of you during the weekend because his business model doesn’t allow him to react to emergencies easily, maybe he is a one person firm and he is at another emergency call. You can’t wait; the temperature is dropping rapidly in your home. You risk damage to your home if you don’t take care of this right away, what do you do? Many people simply pick up the yellow pages and start calling around to see who can take care of them, and the first guy who says he will be out there wins. Does this happen in your IT practice, if you can’t take care of a client right away?
Reliance on technology has never been as high in the small business world as it is today. With instant and always on connectivity, mobility solutions that reach all corners of the globe and a catalogue of other mission critical services and applications many corporations cannot afford any outages however, many small businesses do not invest in the systems to prevent this from happening either. The weight of the world falls onto the IT Company’s shoulders. That is the way business operates today.
What can we do to lessen the risk of our clients doing the one-strike, your out?
- Remove the commodity mentality to our services - Many small businesses see technology support the way they see electricity, it is strictly a commodity. Small Business expects technology to work, just like the lights in the office, when they flick the switch it just needs to work. The challenge he is that many still in today’s age of technology still do not understand the value of investing in technology and the proper support. Breaking the mindset of a commodity and building relationships will assist many IT firms in breaking away from the one-strike risk of happening to them.
- Set realistic Expectations – Both sides are guilty on this one. Many clients are not fully aware of what technology can do to benefit their business and the amount of complexity around simple services like E-Mail, websites and the Internet. Consulting firms that can educate their clients on what technology is all about will win in the end and when you have provided the right education then realistic expectations can be set once again lessening the risk of a client going somewhere else.
- Do not compete on price – Price is often a killer with customers that exhibit the one-strike approach to their business. Many customers that purely shop on price say they want a relationship however never practice what they preach. The lowest price always wins, no matter how long they have been dealing with a support firm or reseller. It is hard for a reseller to deal with this, best just to let that opportunity go because normally when you give them the lowest price, they generally will complain about the invoice, the service work and whatever else they can find wrong with your offering. These events will eat up valuable time and a lot of your resources. Play the value card at all times.
- Be prepared for emergencies – Emergencies occur everywhere in every part of life. How is your firm structured to deal with emergencies. Do you have a call out system? Do you have a 24- hour answering service? Do you have a support email that clients can use and is delivered to someone who can respond rapidly? There are many preventative measures that a support firm can use to deal with emergencies. It is also critical that rates and expectations are clearly indentified ahead of time so no confusion exists. If you say you can get back to some within 2 hours, you better deliver. However, many small businesses do not have the patience to wait two hours, this is why I like the 24-hour answering service, this equates to instant gratification.
- Create relationships always - “It really boils down to relationships and whether one can be developed or not” states Matt Pardo, CEO of Austin, TX VelocityStorm. Relationships is the key to preventing the “one-strike, you’re out” threat that lingers in the marketplace today. Successful small business IT firms develops relationships with clients that can weather any storm. Failures, disasters, outages and service issues happen that is the nature of our business. It is how you deal with them that will determine if you are victimized by the one-strike approaches that some small business live by.
- Ask questions - Question small business on how they view IT? This is a critical question to understand the importance of IT in their business. You may also want to find out how many suppliers or consulting firms they have dealt with? Find out who the last company in there was? Did they get fired by their provider or did the provider not meet their expectations and why not? Qualifying small businesses ahead of time will provide you with a clear picture on what this relationship will be like.
- Begin with the end in mind – I sat in a sales presentation once and the speaker was talking about “beginning with the end in mind”, his theory was to start off with your goal to get a testimonial letter from the client. That is what we all want, something to put into our brag book to show as proof to others that we can do the work we claim. I have started using this and this mindset is powerful to creating an awesome service factor for your business.
The one-strike society is not going away! The stronger relationships that we can develop with our clients will provide us with the mechanisms to lessen the effects in the world that we do business today. Combined, excellent client services with the tools to deliver what your clients want and you will win in this society.