The answer is, “The customer!”
The question is one that comes up frequently in my seminars, which deals with whether one should work toward an entirely web-based model, or try to have some hybrid that involves a physical storefront or touch point along with a web-based delivery system for the business?
As technology becomes more affordable, employees become less dependable, as customer expectations of round-the-clock, on-demand access to your organization escalate, and as budgets shrink across the board, questions about exactly how to best structure our business models abound. And these are worthwhile questions.
What I suggest is to do your best to offer as many touch points and delivery systems as possible. Start by asking your customers to describe their optimal delivery system and then do your best to build it for them, carefully monitoring your return on investment as you evaluate your options. Do your best to offer as many means as possible for your customers to do business with you, then study intensively exactly which ones they use the most and then let that dictate where you make future investments or where you scale back.
You may have noticed an example of this when you call with a question about a bill, like your mortgage or your utility bill. At some point on the automated menu you’ll be politely reminded that the information you’re seeking is available on line, given the web address, and even sold on why going there is faster, better, cheaper, cleaner, and that you’d just be a whole lot better person if you took care of your business on-line. I don’t know about you, but I disregard all those messages and still stay on the line for a representative just because that’s the kind of terrible, burdensome person I am. What should be happening on their end is that they should be studying exactly how many of their customers still want to do business with a representative, how many they are able to convert into on-line users, and also compare that information with whatever demographics they have on their customers. Chances are they’ll find that their younger, hipper, better-looking customers have no issue at all with simply going to the website the next time they have a question, and that old timers like me prefer to do my business in as personal a fashion as I can. If I’m a worthwhile customer and it makes economic sense to work with me, then they need to keep that channel open. If not, they should work to educate me on the benefits of doing business their way, then move me into a more profitable way of interacting with them. Or, if it makes better economic sense for them, they should perhaps suggest that I do business somewhere else. In a nutshell, that’s what you and I should be doing in our businesses, too. Tactfully and sensitively, of course.
The customer IS the answer, and that’s the first place to look any time you have a question related to your business model. But never forget, the customer is not necessarily always “right,” only the RIGHT customer is always right!