The Art of Managing Expanding Business
Good standards in health, standards of living and mobility have contributed to increasing human populations. In the eyes of business at all levels, that means potential in enhancing revenue. However, the question that remains unresolved is how to harness a bigger market without reducing the quality of inter action with customers.
As technology gets more savvy, businesses may miss the all important point of customers still wanting a decent standard of interaction with the business, especially after locking in with the latter in contracts and service.
Revenue can be further increased with lowering costs of all types. It does not take a genius to figure out that widening the gap between revenue and costs leads to possible exponential rise in profits, driven and pressured by shareholders, individual owners and hired executive management. Whether you are running an outfit in start ups, a multi-national or corporatised ex-government department, the preoccupations of CEOs emphasise these days on the bottom line - the share price or investor return, the net profits and the performance rewards (SNP) at a certain period or point in time. Competition can be tough.
Sadly these drivers have left a wreck of a trail in the level of customer service. In other respects, it is the supporting infrastructure that is compromised. Every trick in the process is utilised to ensure the minimisation of spending and that implies reduced commitment to on going running costs like employee expenses. Where can we cut costs to widen the all important margin? We cannot avoid legislative requirements like taxes, although legal teams are hired to avoid them without breaching the law ( so this is not tax avoidance). Where can we fly under the compliance radar and still not be committing breaches?
So the spotlight on reduced costs weigh heavily on the using of humans, or rather, less of them, or less of those costly humans employed. Manufacturing has always applied the principle of using minimal labour costs and obtaining maximum prices in markets which can pay for them. Even restaurants in higher cost nations are sourcing ingredients from cheaper countries and importing them into the cities with paying customers. Call centres, so called back room support and what is savagely seen as non core functions have been relegated as far away from the balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statements.
Several revenue sectors which would be obviously providing services to humans have left a bitter taste on the literal mouth of customers. This taste commenced way before the much heralded Millennium year, but now it has got more intense and with less guilt. If you take a moment to reflect, do you find that it is easier to get to the sales option first than anything else - like technical support and complaints channel - when you are left with a phone number for help? Even more intriguing is the rising trend of minimalist contact points or numbers on a business web page or smart phone app. This reinforces the rising impression that businesses prefer not to talk to you after they have got your business.
In a country like Australia, where distances to transverse are far or where transport can be expensive, relying on the phone is no longer as reassuring as say in 1999. The auto software cycle that you are put on when you dial for help, already sends strong messages that you as a customer are not that important -you are subject to a cycle of recorded voice of press button options that can seem to be void of what you are after. Only when you remain persistent and remain on the phone are you reluctantly allowed to speak to a live person. There in lies a most significant point - despite the promotion of robots, artificial intelligence and impersonal recordings (all in the name of lowering costs, my dear), customer satisfaction is highly scored when you allow customers to speak to a live human being, and not only when the business is trying to make a sale. (Critics on this point may argue that Millennials these days prefer not to deal with any human beings in the course of their daily lives, but again, my dear, Millennials do eventually grow old and may change their stand on this.)
At times there is a compromise.....a robot icon may appear on your web page screen to try to induce you to join an apparent but not fully revealed party to a conversation. You may not be sure if there is a live person on the other end, or if there is a hacker with evil intent on destroying your day or your records. Sometimes, you have to reveal to this cyberspace stranger the validity of your identity and self, whilst you cannot do likewise ask for the credentials of this other party. We teach our kids to be street smart and extra wary of engaging with Internet persona - they can be not what they purport to be, but businesses hold the upper hand in this respect. This dictating of such conditions to customers in a one way direction has not found sufficient issue with our so called regulatory, consumer support and watch dog groups that are supposed to monitor businesses.
We try to understand these developments - the bottom line is that hiring human beings have gone over the board in terms of practical costs in developed economies. Even dealing with human beings from the business side can make us experience a spectrum from the high of pleasant conversations with well trained staff to the lows of being patient with stressed out and impolite staff members.
I have found myself in situations where the business side I am dealing with wash their hands of any responsibility when it comes to helping customers resolve service delivery issues - the party that requires a customer to implement something (A) behaves like rude bureaucrats, the party that A directs us to deal with simply state it is not their problem and it is the responsibility of the contractor (C) they have outsourced to - and C cries for help in front if us by saying that they are only, well, a contractor. So the customer is not offered a solution, things can get worse and the bitterness in our mouths gets stronger like a well chillied Bali curry.
The predominance of directing customers to seek help through smart phone apps or web pages does leave an interesting question - what happens if the Internet is down for the whole city and there is a Wi-Fi black out. It need not be an South Aus styled episode circa late 2016 with the electricity black out. When customer help relies mainly on a primary delivery platform like a vulnerable cyberspace, this is real silly like putting all your eggs on the proverbial single nest.
Customer service has been reduced to a take it or leave it attitude on the part of many businesses. One can argue at the same time that there has been a opening of choices for customers, but this also means a regular review of whom you want to deal with - and the comfort of being loyal means nothing any more, just like in many other aspects of human life in our contemporary society. Some industries thrive on getting transactional revenue when you change providers, like financial services, service agents and those who thrive on such income, whose revenue can be huge with a growing market base.
I have become seriously cynical of advertisements. To me, they signal a serious lack of progress by the business towards achieving their targets, which most likely does not include improving customer services. They cannot fool me anymore, all those actors, bright graphics and loud promises coming out from such ads. The proof to me is in the pudding, when I interact with such chosen businesses, and if they do not meet my expectations, well it is time to choose another, subject to the transitionary fees imposed. It can be character building for the customer, making us learn how to better self manage and negotiate - and play off one business against another, as they do us with us, on most occasions.
Imagine a country that encourages too many immigrants in too short a period. The existing infrastructure in public transport, housing, educational facilities and facility provision would crack under the onslaught of families and others arriving requiring services immediately. So likewise for a business wanting to increase revenue immediately and in the short term without adequately providing better staff training, more reliable support mechanisms and delivering product service as promised. Go figure. We have observed cities that cut corners, have break downs in safety and civility or where bottlenecks occur. It is not just countries and cities that we are concerned with here.