Some good news on the economy this morning as unemployment continues to fall and wage growth exceeds inflation for the first time in a while.
I am no economist but I guess the first part drives the second as the labour market tightens.
However there was a ‘but’ in the generally positive news and that was that productivity has fallen, after a few months of weak growth.
Now like any small business owner, I get productivity, I have to.
Finding ways to do more than you did the day before by doing things better and faster is a constant challenge, if only because it’s so time consuming and expensive to have to go out and hire someone else to do the work that you have not been able to do yourself.
I am therefore always surprised that so many small business, who often have excellent control of their costs, persist with low productivity tasks that could so be done so much more effectively with the help of technology.
I am not talking about replacing people with rare and valuable skills here with technology, I am talking about using technology to do the drudge work that frees up peoples time to do the interesting and valuable work instead.
I saw a good example a few weeks ago. I went to see a haulage company with several thousand customers. Many were regulars, and some of the people at the business answering incoming calls know them well enough to be able to say ‘ Hi Tom, usual pick up?’ and book the collection in a flash.
But there were two challenges. Some of the call handlers were new, and still not familiar with regular callers and some of the callers were ‘irregulars’ who perhaps had not placed an order in months or even years. This was becoming more of an issue as the business grows as it’s becoming harder for the call handlers to remember every customer.
The result was that regular customers who are used to people knowing who they are would grumble at having to give their details to the newer call handlers, making them feel bad for having to ask.
And irregular customers would have to give their details again to whoever answered the phones, slowing up the whole business of booking a collection for all. This is a particular problem as the deadline to arranging a same day collection approaches every day at about four o’clock.
That is not to say there was a lack of systems and technology overall. The company has a modern customer relationship management or CRM system with records for all customers. However to find a record and book a job if the customer was unfamiliar to the call handler meant asking for an account number or postcode and typing in longhand.
The answer is obvious enough, a simple application that matches the phone number of the incoming call to the record on the CRM system automatically and pops the customer record onto the call handlers screen and phone.
That way the call handler knows the customer on the line instantly, and has their details to hand whether an old hand or new to the business.
Customers can place an order quickly regardless of who answers the phone.
So why was this not already in place?
Well, historically it could be expensive to implement this sort of computer/telephone integration, or CTI. A piece of middleware was usually required and a bespoke connecter of some kind. Plus the ongoing costs of maintaining the link as things get upgraded over time.
The answer? Hosted telephony.
One of the great benefits of hosted telephony is that adding functionality is easy. You simple decide what you need, CTI, call recording, web conferencing, audio conferencing, desktop sharing etc. You simply pay an amount per user to have the feature added.
The cloud based nature of hosted means it’s easy for the providers to add functionality as many thousands of subscribers will want to take advantage of it. This brings the cost per user down to a small fraction of having to build a CTI or whatever else just for your company. In short, no need to buy it with big upfront costs, just rent it with none.
So we are replacing the old on premise equipment with a hosted alternative (saving a small fortune on telephone lines into the bargain, see other blog entries on that) that comes with CTI as standard.
A connecter means that the hosted telephone system can pass information to the CRM package and vice versa.
Now calls can be answered and handled much more quickly without the need for a time consuming look up of a customer’s details. The business is equipped for continued growth.
Call handlers love it, they really enjoy being able to provide a first rate service to their customers.
The implementation was done a week back so it’s early days but the customer is very pleased. The job of taking a booking has been speeded up considerably, a real and tangible productivity gain.
Best of all the mad panic at a quarter to four to book a late collection is now much less frantic, with more calls being answered and more work being booked as a result.
So, higher productivity equals more revenue for the business. Now all we have to do it make sure that ultimately means a bit more pay for everyone as well!
If there are tasks that you suspect could be done better and more quickly, why not give me a ring to discuss. I am sure I will have an example of where we have solved a similar problem elsewhere, and we would love to hear from you.