Sometime between the moment you buy your
first paper fax machine and the time you upgrade to your 33.6 fax modem,
you begin to realize just how weird technology can be. Not the technology
itself, but the people who use it.
Wait a minute. Let me clarify that. It
gets especially weird for the people who use the technology, but don't
really understand it. People who think that just because you can transmit
the data faster, you can actually produce the data faster. These are the
same guys, incidentally, that think all you need to drive a car are a
set of keys and some gas in the tank. Ask them what a distributor cap
is and they'll tell you it's the promotional hat they give away at CompUSA
Techno-expectations are a real problem
for anyone using technology in their business matrix, but for those of
us in the service industry, it's been a particularly vexing problem. And
if you think you're immune to it, forget it, pal. The same people who
get ticked off because their Big Mac arrives thirty seconds late are the
same people clicking their mice and ordering from your website.
So how do you handle a twitchy, impatient
public that's been sold on the immediacy of push button technology? Well,
let's slow down the runaway train with a few basic realignments of the
expectations -- both yours and your customers' -- which tend to skew our
view of things.
First, YOU have to accept the notion that
technology changes at a faster rate than human nature's ability to adapt
it. Which means that the first set of expectations that have to change
are YOURS. Let's say you sucked some unsuspecting consumer into a web-based
transaction. DING! The VISA clears and the order is in! But just because
it comes in at the speed of light, doesn't mean you can fulfill it that
fast. And the proprietor who makes that mistake is bucking for big trouble,
because he's forgotten that it still takes humans on the fulfillment end
(no matter how automated your fulfillment system is) to screw things up.
One of our clients, for example, is convinced
that because we designed a fully digital catalogue/fulfillment operation,
he can go clip coupons in Aruba while "the machines do the work".
Wrong. As long as there are humans anywhere near the transaction, there
will always be screw ups. And over-promising your product based on quick
technology is the surest way to build an impressive collection of consumer
complaints. So be careful not to believe your own techno-claims. Sure,
you can be efficient. And you can be fast. But be careful to promise speed
and efficiency only where human involvement is NOT a factor.
The next thing you gotta do is realign
your customers' expectations. This is a lot easier if you give them adequate
warning up front, before they base any decisions on faulty expectations.
A perfect example of this are clients that bring us bad art and tell us,
"Hey, just throw it into Photoshop and change it. It only takes five
minutes." To which I reply, "No, YOU throw it into Photoshop
and YOU change it in five minutes and if you can do it, I'll hire you
on the spot."
The key here is that most improperly-educated
clients really buy into the overly simple, "one click does it all"
marketing message and transfer those ill-founded expectations on to your
business, which sets you up for a high degree of failure. You know it
doesn't work that way. I know it doesn't work that way. But the guy who's
ticked off that he has to pay you isn't as forgiving. So it's up to you
to educate him. And if you're smart, you'll do it BEFORE he's had a chance
to develop his own fictional expectations.
Now, not everyone handles techno-expectations
in the same way. There are ethical ways and, well, sneaky ways to do this.
And because I'm both a supremely ethical guy and a big fan of sneakiness,
I've decided to present an example of each for your consideration:
Method #1 involves embracing the technology
on YOUR side of the relationship, but not allowing the clients to see/feel/be
threatened by it. After all, most clients really don't care about HOW
you do what you do. All they want to know is (1) when can they get it
and (2) can you give them a better price just this once.
At Frankel & Anderson, we often do
stuff in a day that takes other agencies weeks, but we're careful to constrain
that claim to issues like production. So when it comes to printing brochures,
producing radio or TV commercials, we take full advantage of the techno-push.
Doing a digital photo shoot, for example, saved a client two full days
of film lab work and another day of scanning. It also sliced the photography
bill in half. That was a good thing. But creating the strategy and concept
behind the photo shoot took longer. Less time than a traditional agency
(because we're really, really good), and with better looking roughs than
a traditional agency (because we produce everything on PowerPC's), but
still taking enough time for genuine human beings to give the concepts
Those were the expectations presented
to the client BEFORE we undertook the assignment. And that's why the client
was pleased with the outcome.
Method #2 is best illustrated by an estate
planner in Houston who -- no kidding -- uses search and replace on very
basic software to "write" estate plans for clients. The clients
show up for the meeting, drop off a check and fill out a form. They are
told that the plan will take about four to six weeks to prepare. The receptionist
does the search and replace within an hour or two. It takes the attorney
an hour or so to write in the specific riders and attachments, but the
whole thing is finished in a few hours.
If the clients knew how quickly he produces
the plans, do you think they'd pay $4500 for a plan? I think not. But
they do. And I'm convinced the only reason they do is that they EXPECT
to pay $4500 and EXPECT to wait at least four to six weeks.
Either way you choose, you can see that
it has less to do with the technology than your customers' techno-expectations.
Did I mention that this article only took five seconds to write?