Are You Running a Stupid Business?

by Kevin Casey on July 2, 2013
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Author and entrepreneur Bruce Kasanoff has a message for the modern employee: Your career will go nowhere if you work for a stupid company.

Kasanoff’s recent article for LinkedIn Today, “How to Tell If You Work for a Stupid Company,” essentially splits businesses into two categories — smart or stupid — and helps workers identify which type of company they’re working for. It’s a thought-provoking post that made us wonder: How can small-business owners and managers tell whether they’re running a smart company or a stupid one?

It sounds a bit harsh, sure, but if you find yourself in the latter bucket, it may be time to reconsider certain aspects of how you do business. This doesn’t mean you or your ideas are dumb, but it may mean that your customer-service model is sorely out of touch with reality.

Kasanoff asserts that many traditional strategies are unfit for the modern era. Let’s take a look at his warnings for career-minded employees from a small-business owner’s perspective. Here are three clues that your company could be smarter about dealing with its clientele.

1. You don’t identify problems until a customer brings them to your attention. Owners and managers who treat customer satisfaction as a reactive process aren’t doing enough today. Waiting until a customer initiates contact — through a service call, an email, a social media post, or a face-to-face interaction — to identify potential issues or opportunities is a sign of business stupidity. No, the customer is not always right. Neither is assuming that problems don’t exist because no one has complained about them.

2. You keep the customer waiting too long for resolution. When issues arise, response and resolution times may vary depending on the nature of the problem or the business. But the general rule here is: Don’t waste the customer’s time. Long hold times on the phone, slow (or no) replies to email or social channels, or an overall failure to treat customer-service matters seriously is — you guessed it — stupid. To invoke a cliche, you’re just throwing gas on the fire and probably losing a long-term customer in the process.

3. You forget about issues as soon as they’re “resolved.” Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone learns from them. Businesses that treat customer service issues as “resolved” or “closed” without using the experience to improve their offerings — through tracking, analysis, and/or proactive strategies — aren’t learning from their missteps. If this describes your company, it’s prone to repeating the same mistakes over and over again. That’s often an unforgivable sin in the eyes of today’s customers.

Kasanoff goes on to list the best practices of smart companies, many of which rely upon using modern technology to make things better for customers — without them having to ask for improvements. Here are two that can be applied to small businesses:

First, smart businesses and their owners “leverage digital sensors to gather and analyze data flows.” That’s a fancy way of saying, “Use all of the information you have at hand to make good decisions.” A fine place to start: your own website. If you’re not paying attention to what people are doing there, you’re wasting valuable data. At minimum, use a free tool like Google Analytics to track information and identify opportunities, potential problems, and so forth.

Second, smart owners and managers “leverage pervasive memory to track information for customers, instead of about them,” Kasanoff notes. This gets back to point #3 above — if you treat customer issues as “done” once they’re resolved, you aren’t learning anything.

This idea of tracking information for customers doesn’t need to be relegated exclusively to problems: It could and should be based on positive or everyday customer interactions, too. How you track that data, whether with a full-blown customer relationship management platform, a simple spreadsheet, or other means, is ultimately up to you and your business. Just don’t let your business suffer from chronic amnesia, especially when it comes to customers.

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