A common theme within the writings and consultation that 3Sixty Insights takes on, is the pure and simple fact that businesses that remain stagnant can and will eventually fail… To avoid becoming stagnant, it is important for a business to constantly look into the mirror of self-reflection in order to find ways to continuously improve their business. One enabler within small businesses that we find commonly overlooked, is the area of technology… Technology costs money, and in the eyes of most small businesses, anything that costs money and doesn’t have a direct financial ROI, is taking money directly out of profits. However, technology is the unsung enabler within a small business that directly impacts how people perceive a business and its ability to efficiently communicate with them. Let’s expand upon this a bit by sharing a specific example we ran into recently:
A firm 3Sixty Insights recently worked with had been in business for roughly 20 years with 25 employees… These employees were a mix of office-based and remote, with many frequent travelers throughout the firm. As part of the work we conducted with this firm, we reviewed multiple aspects of the business in order to help find areas of improvement throughout the firm to help them become more efficient as a business. One item that was continuously overlooked by the firm was its phone system. As, in the words of the CEO and owner, “It was nothing more than a means of communication, and it worked; people were able to pick up the phone anytime and make a call anytime they wanted”. Herein lies the problem; their phone system was just about as old as the business itself, and without them noticing, it was a major inefficiency within the business, costing them an unknown amount of time and money. Let’s dive in a little deeper on this.
After a complete review of their phone system, we found several problems:
- This phone system was made shortly after caller ID made its way into businesses, and it was very limited in its capability.
- Caller ID disappeared – As an example, once a call was picked up, both the name and phone number would disappear.
- No caller ID logs – This system was so old, that it had no caller ID logs. Which meant, if someone got up from their desk and received a phone call and the caller did not leave a voicemail, the employee would never know they even received a call.
- Physical phone number forwarding – This firm had several remote and frequent travelers as part of the team. Their current phone system was poorly designed for these team members, as each phone number had to be forwarded to their remote lines physically on a phone at the headquarters. This led to physical phones randomly placed throughout the headquarters with the sole purpose of forwarding phone lines to remote workers. This also became a problem when the business would lose power for any amount of time… As during these power outages, there would be no ability for these remote workers to receive a phone call. And, once power was restored, the office manager had to reprogram each and every phone for these employees. A worst case scenario that happened for this firm was when their building lost power for a week straight due to a construction mishap.
- Physical voicemails – With the physical phones, came physical voicemails which lived on each and every phone. This meant when someone left a voicemail for an employee, it would be left on the phone back at headquarters, leaving these remote employees to check their voicemail several times a day… Frequently while onsite, we would see red blinking voicemail lights on some phones for days on end.
Individually, these are not big deal breaking issues. However, once combined, what we uncovered was an out-of-date phone system that was painfully difficult for remote and traveling employees to deal with. But, there was a much bigger issue facing this firm, as their outdated phone system made them look slow and sluggish to their customer base, with zero disaster recovery options in place which had an untold amount of direct revenue impact to the firm. Again, the main driver for the executive team was they did not want to invest into something that they saw as completely utilitarian… What they didn’t realize is that for something as low as $12 – $15 a month per user, they could invest into a software-based phone solution such as Fuze or 8×8, that would send their phone system lightyears into the future. They could also combine other features that they were currently paying monthly for with Go-to-meeting. This was something the firm was already paying $12 – $16 a month for per user.
At the end of the day, for essentially what they were paying out-of-pocket for another provider, they were able to upgrade their entire phone system to be more inclusive of their remote and traveling workforce and provide more streamlined communications with their client base.
This is not at all an uncommon scenario, as again, most leadership within small businesses see technology the exact same way, “utilitarian,” and completely overlook the value that new technological enhancements can bring to the firm. As we work with clients to find areas of improvement, we look across multiple aspects like people, processes, technologies, and other enablers; and technology must not be overlooked. At a high level, here are some of the areas that could be improved upon with little to no investment from a technological perspective:
- Software: Software can be expensive, however over the years, the innovation within software has grown in leaps and bounds… Many small businesses we work with are still relying on old on-premise technology, which makes it difficult for the remote and the traveling workforce to do their jobs. Then you have the added cost of maintaining physical systems in place; again, there are disaster scenarios such as power loss or fire that can effectively wipeout an entire business.
- Website: Web technology has grown in leaps and bounds over the years as well. Not only does a dated website make a business look old and archaic, there are major ramifications from an online search perspective. Let’s not forget that Google search drives 81% of all sales these days.
- Social media and online forums: Social media or online forums such as Nextdoor.com are not just for kids anymore and cannot be ignored by businesses… Social Media and Online Forums, Hidden Gems of Customer Insight
- Document management: We wrote about this a while back (Digital Document Management for Small Businesses), but we still find that many businesses are heavily reliant on paper documentation of anything from HR and tax documents, to sales orders and invoices. Not only are stored documents a hog of physical real-estate, but they are extremely difficult to search within and completely unsecure… Then you have the fact that they are not friendly to a remote or traveling workforce, and completely susceptible to a disaster scenario such as fire.
- Printing and scanning: Small businesses love to hold on to old printers and scanners way past their life expectancy. Not only does old printer and scanner technology cost an untold amount of time for the firm dealing with issues as they arise (which happens all the time), they tend to be completely inefficient as well… Something as simple as executing signatures on paperwork takes multiple steps of printing, physically signing, scanning, and then making physical copies, which takes a ridiculous amount of needless time. Whereas something as DocuSign and digital document management, cuts down on time and material cost.
These are just a few areas that we typically target within a small business to identify current areas of weakness that could be easily upgraded, completely cutting out inefficiencies, and in many cases, cutting cost.