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Op/ed: Use technology to improve your business, not just to promote it

By   /   Friday, April 20th, 2012  /   Comments Off on Op/ed: Use technology to improve your business, not just to promote it

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By Jacques Habra on April 20, 2012

As general manager of an online marketing firm, I am often asked, “Should we be on Facebook?” or “Should I be tweeting?”

My immediate answer is no. You should be focused on increasing your value to your customers, and only using technology to learn about your business and provide that value.

For a business to succeed in today’s economic climate, it must create value. Value is a function of delivering a product or service that is a) high quality, b) delivered in a timely fashion and c) provided at a reasonable cost.
Let’s examine each component of value and apply opportunities that currently exist in the ever-evolving world of the Internet, mobile technology and social networks.

Quality

There’s an age-old adage that business owners spend part of their time working “in their business” and part of their time working “on their business.” When it comes to measuring the quality of your product or service, it’s all about working “on” the business. It used to take weeks or even months to conduct a survey to find out if your offering was meeting expectations. Today, you can use technology to determine how you’re doing practically in real-time.

There’s a website, www.surveyonthespot.com, that features a mobile application that engages your customers at the point of consumption. If you run a restaurant and want to know if the service and food met expectations, a visitor provides feedback through the mobile app. The visitor is incentivized to do so for discounts on the bill, the future bill or even the current bill. What’s more you, as the merchant, can make the survey results live — so in real time you are sharing what people are saying about your service, food, etc to your Facebook or Twitter network.

Now, the catch is that you must be delivering high quality; otherwise, the broadcast won’t help. Through systems like this, you can discover the levels of quality that need improvement on Monday night, so you can make adjustments on Tuesday morning.

Timeliness

You should view social networks as a way to help deliver your product or service in a more timely way.

Phone Halo, for example, provides a small key-fob widget that you attach to anything you want to keep, items you do not want to lose. You attach the Phone Halo to your keychain, your briefcase, a purse, even a child. Your smart phone talks to the key-fob and beeps if you get separated from your item.

But what happens if the device is somehow lost completely? The solution: Send a broadcast to the user’s Facebook and Twitter accounts notifying their immediate communities of the loss and last known coordinates. Now, you have engaged dozens and possibly hundreds of people instantly to help you recover your lost item. [Disclosure: I’m an investor in, and advisor to, Phone Halo.]

The point is to use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to improve the value proposition of your product or service — not just pump out advertising. It’s the age of sharing. The best use of social networks is the sharing of an immediate opportunity or the sharing of a problem in hopes of assistance.

Costs

Money you save on business processes can be passed on to customers and help keep you competitive. For service-based companies, there are dozens of tools online to collaborate, share, and interface with clients faster and easier. And half of these tools are free. For a quick list, check out: http://tiny.cc/vdj8aw. The one tool I think worth revisiting or visiting for the first time if that’s the case is Skype, the free calling and video conferencing service.

The other consideration is the use of today’s tablet computers such as Apples’ iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab to replace your traditional point of sale systems. These tablets now have sophisticated applications that interface dynamically with several other applications to keep your entire workflow humming along. One application I recently saw was the use of the iPad to take an order at a restaurant, process the credit card or payment, and even thank the customer for visiting all within the same application.

People who are successful in business have stopped saying “things will eventually get better” because they have learned that it already is better. The key is doing the research and implementing best practices. It’s all around, ready to interconnect your staff, vendors, and customers and to deliver value through cutting-edge technology.

Jacques Habra is the general manager of First Click and the owner of Noospheric, a consulting and investment practice that has helped launch brands such as Phone Halo, SBClick, and nonprofit Catalyst for Thought. To learn more, visit www.noospheric.com or www.jacqueshabra.com.

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