At NewPath we like to ask this core question: What's the most important thing to a small business owner?
Your business idea, you say? An idea is great. But without customers, it really is just an idea. And the value of an idea is related directly to the ability to bring the idea successfully to customers. The better you execute, the better the idea.
Time, then? Time is an important aspect of running a business, but we all have the same amount of time. Without customers, you just have a lot of time on your hands.
Money? It has to be money! Money is important, no doubt. But happy customers pay you for your services or product. Money on its own won't grow without value being delivered to customers.
So what IS the most important thing for small business success? Your customer! A customer is by far the most important objective for a small business owner. Happy customers will pay money for your idea and tell you when they'd like it delivered. Businesses increase their chance of success when customers are the MOST important thing.
Customer-oriented technology - a case study
So what does the customer have to do with building a digital workplace? Everything! Today, people are changing how they find valuable information, and they’re looking for help to prioritize what steps they take to run a business.
Therefore, your digital workplace should be set up in a way that you’re providing this kind of information (online content), in a way that your prospective customers can find it (and you). The pre-sales and post-sales process has changed so that customers are doing more research long before they may ever interact with you directly.
Yet there’s a natural tension between putting technology in front of your processes and being truly customer focused. That’s why when choosing the right technology solutions for your business, it’s important to discern when your technology will enhance your customer relationships, and when it will get in their way.
For example, we mentioned a customer in our last newsletter who is working on becoming digital workplace in a customer-focused way. They are trying to automate a process that is very cumbersome and complex for their patients.
When a client needs a medical test, they need to fill out forms through a paper clerical process that involves a staff member to select the right form so the patient can fill them out by hand. Different information is needed for different tests, different forms are needed for different insurance companies, and patients also want to identify the best price for the tests they need.
As you can probably tell, this is all very time-consuming and means the clinic can only serve a limited number of patients. The system NewPath designed routes data to the necessary forms depending on which insurance they have, and generates an editable PDF for the clinic that can be digitally processed or uploaded to the clinic website.
The whole thing takes far less time, and is more accurate. Automating this data collection for the customer, and automatically generating the right set of forms depending on the condition is much more customer-friendly.
In this example of digital workplace transformation, our customer was looking at what the customer values. They understood how painful it was for their patients to look for and fill out all the different requisitions, and investigate which clinics took their insurance, etc. This process ensures the right information is sent to the right place, helping their client navigate a very complex healthcare system.
These technology solutions will also help our client scale their business and talk to more patients. We’ll talk more about the specifics of this project in a future article. If you’re curious about the tools we used, click these links to learn more about Formstack and WebMerge.
In a digital workplace, a business uses cloud-based technology to deliver value to customers, ensure customer success, and manage their resources. They also use technology to help deliver their value proposition consistently, delighting customers and attracting prospects through digital marketing.
Let’s take a deeper look at these last three areas, beginning with consistent value proposition delivery. Right now, clients may have a different experience depending on how they interact with your business, and with whom, and also how you portray your business value, products and services.
When you use technology, you’re taking processes that are malleable and flexible, and creating an interface where clients can consistently get the same high level of service. For example, At NewPath we prefer to talk to our customers in short meetings on a regular basis to work through the issues in our projects, so we’ve created a consistent method to achieve this.
When customers want to book time with our director Alex Sirota, they access his online booking calendar, powered by Appointlet. Instead of having to go back and forth by email to find a mutually convenient time, Alex presents a digital interface that allows customers to choose a time that will work for both.
There are a consistent set of steps that occur every time they schedule a meeting. They choose their time zone, type of meeting, and preferred location (these preferences can be saved for future bookings).
Once they select a time, the underlying technology springs into action. The customer receives a confirmation with a calendar invite and a reminder before the meeting, all of which is totally automated and personalized.
Now let’s talk about the opposite of delighting customers, by using a not-so-delightful example we can all relate to: the automated phone system. You’re having an issue with one of your vendors so you dial customer service, and then various phone cues tell you which number to press for certain outcomes.
In the past we would have connected with a human voice, “How may I help you?” and that person would triage your call manually and connect you with the right person who could solve your problem. Today, customers are forced to do that routing ourselves, but if our problem doesn’t fit neatly into one of the options, it can be extremely frustrating.
So while these automated phone systems certainly make for a consistent experience, it’s definitely not delighting customers. Now with new advances in automation and artificial intelligence, there are some phone systems that you can speak to with natural phrases and it can translate those into its set menu items. In other cases, the system will identify your phone number and recognize you as a current customer to route your call accordingly. These are all steps in the right direction.
Another way companies are using digital to delight customers is by providing support via social media. They know customers are there already, and this may be the first place they go to talk about a problem they’re having with a company, product or service.
Some companies provide comprehensive social media groups on Facebook, online support materials or forums, which can be cost-saving as well. Others offer instant chat, or the option to have someone call you back instead of waiting on hold.
At NewPath one way we try to delight customers is with our customized video training sessions. Why not just send them to the support articles at Wild Apricot or our other vendors? The difference is that we train them on a particular sequence of things they need to know to reach their specific goals.
We also record these training sessions so our customers can review them later. We know that after the session when they try to replicate the steps, they may run into a bump or two. With the recording, they can re-watch the lesson as many times as they need to. Of course we’re always here for questions, but this empowers our customers to do more on their own and they tell us this is much appreciated.
We think there is a huge opportunity for service-based companies to do more video-based collaboration, training and support. It’s a way to delight customers, and can also save costs and time for you both.
Lastly, let’s look at attracting prospects through digital marketing. We find that the best way to do that is through content marketing and through building relationships with vendors that recommend our service.
How does being a digital workplace support your ability to distribute content? The first way is that you need to have a website built so that it allows you to categorize, structure, and publish content in a way that is optimized for the search engines. The second way is through email marketing, where you build a prospect list and keep in touch on a regular basis. We’ll talk about each of these marketing efforts/tasks in detail in future articles.
Customer first, digital second
At NewPath we interact with customers primarily between email and Zoom, and sometimes by phone. Internally, we use another channel called Slack that allows us to structure conversations around different customers and projects, but we haven’t given our customers access to that channel. We don’t want to superimpose our way of doing things onto our customers. If they hear about Slack and are interested, we will let them into Slack, but until then we’ll keep using the support channels our customers are used to.
We think there is a place for digital transformation in every single part of your business: sales, accounting marketing, operations, HR, and client management. The caveat is that the transformation should be customer focused, not just an excuse to use an interesting digital tool. That’s why we suggest testing new solutions first with a subset of your customers, figuring out what really resonates and delivers value they have not experienced with anyone else.
If you have any questions about your own company’s digital transformation, feel free to get in touch, particularly around the implementation phase. We specialize in helping small businesses prioritize their digital transformation projects, and select and implement the right tools for the job.