Saturday, March 01, 2008

Unifying our Communications -- can we really speak with one voice?

About a decade ago, in the dark ages of Web 1.0, I happened across a technology that I absolutely knew was going to catch on. It was a simple idea, really, and promised to make things so much simpler for all of us.

Perhaps you heard of it -- Unified Communications?

If you need a refresher, go here.

I first got turned on to it with an adverstisement as I recall, probably on a pre-Microsoft Hotmail message or something. As I write this, I am having some difficulty remembering the name of the first company I signed on with for this great experience. I do remember that I could get voicemail, fax, and email all in one convenient location (on the web), and I could access it with my mobile phone. The thing I liked most about it was the storage space, as I had many points of presence where I accessed the web, floppies were still likely to roast in my car or break in my satchel, and USB thumb drives had not yet been invented.

I was really hooked on this phenomenon, and actually still have an account with a company called J2 (which is good, 'cause I hate using a separate phone line for the technology -2.0 practice of faxing. But I have progressed with the technology developments, and now wear my unified communciations on my hip. I have an ATT/HTC 8525 phone/pocket pc device that provides one central location to read emails (including those from J2 with a fax), send text (and email messages) from, keep up with my daily schedule, manage my tasks, keep record of my mileage and other business expenses, and still be able to share pictures, PowerPoint slideshows, and full-lenth Video movies. Oh, and I get all my phone calls there, too.

Speaking with One Voice

But today the question is whether we can unify our communications and speak with one voice. It appears that in order to get what we want from the behemoths of corporate America, we have to show that our "numbers" are big enough to require them to pay attention to. I like the attempts that many have made in their customer service endeavors, but are they listening to us because they have nothing better to do, or because the really care?

Let's put this into perspective.

If I have 5 customers that each want something different from me that requires my time, which one am I most likely to respond to? I'm thinking the first choice goes to the customer who wants what takes the least amount of mental and physical effort. This customer may also be one who has listened to my suggestions in the past. He or she is likely to be low maintenance when it comes to my time, and I (as many people do) truly appreciate low-maintenance. If by using this model one of the repeatedly needy doesn't get as much of my time, is that a problem? Perhaps, but what's a businessperson to do? At some point, you gotta let them live with their decisions, right?

Many business thought leaders will suggest that we drop the customers who can be considered hand-holding, high-maintenance. They note that the Pareto Principle tells us, quite accurately, that in anything a few (roughly 20 percent) are vital and many (roughly 80 percent) are relatively trivial. You can apply the 80/20 Rule to almost anything, from the science of management to the physical world.

Is that good business?

How do we expect mega-companies to respond? We expect them to satisfy all of their customers! We look at the invoice every month and determine how big a chunk of our income we are dishing out to them and think that they should be falling all over themselves to earn every penny we send them. That's not how small businesses work, but by golly, that's how they should operate!

But it won't work that way. The only way for us to get them to satisfy our needs is for us to take our time to first figure out what our needs are. We can probably start with a Top Ten for each company and then whittle down the list to the Top Two. We should then get together with other customers and compare notes and find our collective Top Two. Then and only then should we approach the mega-company and ask for their attention. This way, we won't be stuck with a problem fixer, we can get the attention of a problem solver.

Don't think that kind of proactivity is needed? Where else have we tried to individually change a collective issue? Where else have we limited our conversations before deciding how we as a group should act? Where else have we failed to get the attention of the real decision makers, and ended up with those who could barely answer our questions, much less fix our problems?

Have you looked at the political scene lately?

We have treated the business world like we've been treating the political world for far too long. How's that working for us? The current election season has drawn out potential voters and open public conversations (no, not the debates) more than any time in recent history. If we can figure it out for politics, can't we figure it out for business?

Here's a spoof of the 2008 debates that I hope you enjoy:

What do you think?

1 comment:

Robyn McMaster said...

Provoking thoughts, Carter!