Much is said about ‘working on‘ your business but what exactly should business owners and specifically service business owners be working on when they’re working on their business?
Interacting with many businesses as a business improvement specialist, I get to ‘peek behind the curtains’ and here is the number one area that tends to be forgotten about…
Most small businesses, particularly professional services businesses like Lawyers, Accountants, Financial Planners, Mortgage Brokers, Dentists, Psychologists etc don’t believe that they need to be innovative. Many of them have a sense of a long and steady tradition where the work that they do has remained unaltered for decades or longer.
Maybe it’s because they’ve been protected from outsiders competing with them, and many weren’t allowed to advertise or even promote their services publicly. For these reasons, amongst others, service professionals often see themselves as above the whims of fad and fashion that businesses outside the professional sphere contend with.
Accordingly to them innovation is something that start-up’s, tech, bio-tech and other such industries need to grapple with. After all, a professional’s focus should remain on maintaining ethical standards, client delivery, being prudent and upholding the cause…
…but I’m calling B.S. on that!
Innovation is not solely relevant to just product and tech businesses…
The world has changed.
Although for decades it’s hardly been necessary to alter much in a professional business, because simply opening the doors, putting up a sign, getting cards printed and doing a good job was enough to be successful.
Those days are almost gone…
For some it’s changing faster than others, but rest assured the tide has turned and continued complacency and failure to move with the times (innovate) will result in a Kodak moment. I’m speaking of Kodak’s demise rather than the other reference of that colloquialism.
Relevant one year and gone the next, along with Blockbuster and so many others who may not have failed altogether, but who are gradually fading into obscurity like the the taxi industry and budget hotel groups.
It’s not tech that’s disrupting these industries and bringing them to their knees, even though it may appear like that on the surface. Tech is driving the change though, and it’s not the world that’s changing but us.
Our customers are changing, not physically, but rather in their expectations.
Tech is changing how we expect to be served. It’s altering our expectation around delivery, convenience, accessibility, tracking and cost. It’s setting new standards in consistency and reliability.
Here’s 4 key areas where a service business needs to innovate if it wishes to stay relevant:
1. Customer Experience – How our customers experience the process of dealing with us
2. Service Offering – what we do for our clients
3. Marketing – How we attract new clients and keep our existing ones
4. Service delivery – How we get work done
The most commonly focused upon area is Service delivery because of it’s impact to the bottom line.
Service delivery is largely invisible to your customer, and how you get the work done behind the scenes matters little to them, provided you’re ethical. After all, in most professional service businesses a document or stack thereof is often the only tangible evidence of work completed.
Of course better systems, processes, software and resourcing options must be engaged to get work completed efficiently and profitably, but this is obvious and even the most resistant Luddite grudgingly makes changes here because he knows how it affects the bottom line.
Whilst it’s arguable that all four areas need equal focus, I’d suggest that it’s Customer Experience that service businesses most need to innovate around, because our society has become experience oriented.
We are so satiated by utility as consumers and so conditioned by new tech that we crave richer experiences. Particularly since the customer experience begins when they first hear or notice your business (marketing).
The first step in innovating your customer experience is creating a map (use sticky notes) of their journey and the touch points with your business. This includes the apparently mundane like receiving your invoice and how they make payment, right down to the more obvious like your waiting room and phone answering process.
The next step is to imagine how this could be if cost and time weren’t a concern, ask yourself (or even better ask your clients in a Client Advisory Board process) what would improve your customers experience. You can then begin to find ideas and solutions to frustrations that improve the experience your customers have in interacting with your business.
Small changes will have a huge impact on how your customers perceive you, how you’re spoken about, how easily you’re referred and whether you’re considered a leader or simply a professional sheep.
Leaders get the pick of the clients, pick of the work and get paid more.
Bearing in mind that we remember how people make us feel long after we forget what they said, and that many an excellent meal has been ruined by having to wait for the bill.