I hate filling out forms, just ask anyone that knows me. I hate bank forms, insurance forms, lease forms, loan forms, and the most dreaded form of all, the medical form. I hate them all equally and it frustrates me to no end that these industries are constantly asking for the same information over and over and making it difficult for me, their customer, by demanding that I provide information they already have.
Why is it that every time you apply for a loan, visit the doctor and switch insurance companies you have to fill out 10 forms? If you have been doing business with a bank for the last 10 years, using the same insurance agent and seeing the same doctor all your life, can't they just look up the information they need in their records somewhere? There just has to be an easier way!
Do you think anyone ever says that about your business? I would bet the answer is yes.
One of my goals as a business owner is to make it as easy as possible to do business with my company. Admittedly, I still have a ways to go, as do the credit card companies, banks and doctors offices I mentioned above. So the question is how can we make our businesses more user-friendly?
Not too long ago in the landscape business all you had to do was return phone calls and you were ahead of the pack. That is not the case anymore. If you haven't already noticed, people are becoming very impatient these days. Or is that really what's going on? Think about that phone call scenario I just mentioned. In the year 2013 if you wait 24 hours to return a phone call that's an eternity. Think I'm kidding? Answer this question then: Does 24 hours to return a phone call make you easy to do business with?
To answer the above question, let's look at what we expect as consumers these days. The following is a personal story, quite the opposite of the above form-filling-out episode, to prove my point.
Satisfaction a click away
The other day I had a lot of driving to do for work, I had some job sites to visit and I figured I would be in my car most of the day. I decided that it would be nice to listen to an audiobook while driving, but unfortunately I didn't have any lying around that I wanted to listen to. So, did I go to the store and buy an audiobook there? No it was too early and no stores were open, plus I didn't have time to drive to a store to get the darn thing.
What I did was open up my iPad and log on to the iTunes store. Within minutes I was searching for business books and reading customer reviews. After finding what seemed like a particularly compelling book, I purchased it with one click. It downloaded in a few minutes and I was listening to it in my car a few minuets later. Easy!
The point is that iTunes makes it easy to buy things like books, music and video. It makes it so easy that I would venture to say that because of sites like iTunes and Amazon we have seen the eventual demise of most major bookstores. And soon I believe that the tablet will take the place of books altogether. And believe me I'm a book lover so that's hard for me to say.
So getting back to the landscape business, what are we doing in our businesses to make it easy for our customers? Can our customers go to our websites and order services? Are we available via text, email, phone, Facebook and Twitter? Do we adapt to whatever mode of communication our customers and potential customers prefer? If not then we have work to do, and again my company is no exception.
I believe that as an industry we need to get to work immediately on making our companies easy to do business with. This includes employing all of the tools we have available to us and implementing them into our company experience. Going back to that downloaded audiobook I mentioned before, that scenario would have been impossible 10 to 15 years ago. Now it's becoming the new normal for books, just like it has become for music.
What's the new normal for the landscape business? Whoever figures that out and brings it to market first will have a decided competitive advantage over the rest of us.
Steve Rak II, is the president of Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio, a past president of the Ohio Landscape Association, and a partner with his brother Jeff Rak in Rak Landscape Consulting. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.