Intelligent business systems, especially ones that help people perform their jobs better, are really the things that keep the business functioning effectively and efficiently.
When it comes to business efficiencies, there’s a really great example I tell people about all the time called “the Four Seasons experience.”
Most Four Seasons hotels are equipped with cameras. Every time you arrive on the property, they take a picture of your license plate. If you’ve stayed there before, the license plate will show up in their system, and by the time you interact with the first person on the property, they’ll say, “Hey there, Mr. Wolf,” or, “Hey, Mrs. Scout.”
This small tweak in the way the Four Seasons operates makes a world of difference—in two areas. First, it makes members feel recognized, acknowledged, “special.” And second, it makes the hotel more efficient. By the time they’ve valeted your car, they’ve already signed you in at the front desk, pulled the keys for your room, and called a staff member over to help you with your bags.
I believe this entire approach to customer satisfaction should be replicated as often as possible.
It’s these small adjustments, and investments made in intelligent business systems, that make your product or service more efficient, more cost-effective, and ultimately more memorable.
Unfortunately, companies often consider these adjustments unnecessary long-term costs. In fact, many companies don’t even consider investing in these sorts of internal improvements. They’ll invest endlessly in external-facing functions: Facebook does it, Twitter does it, consumer products do it all the time. If you’re an insurance company, it’s your claims applications. If you’re an entertainment app, it might be an events application to help you find and book events.
But when it comes to internal business systems like employee applications, customer service platforms, sales support, invoicing, accounting, all the things that keep the lights on, suddenly the efficiency isn’t worth the investment.
Here’s why I believe that’s wrong:
The reason most companies don’t already have intelligent internal systems in place is largely a money issue.
Unfortunately, it’s also a short-sighted one. Intelligent business systems, especially ones that help people perform their jobs better, are really the things that keep the business functioning effectively and efficiently.
The reason these get de-prioritized, however, is because they all tend to fall under the umbrella of “operations.” Companies would much rather invest in external-facing technologies geared toward users and customers, failing to realize it’s almost always the internal functions that keep people around for the long haul. Internal systems, with intelligent user interfaces, will allow employees to provide better services to customers, save money, track areas of improvement, uphold management standards across different layers of the business, the list goes on.
So while it might seem like an expensive upfront cost to improve the way employees manage tasks, track hours, send invoices, etc., the opportunity cost is oftentimes a six, seven, or even eight-figure mistake for the company—all stemming from long-term inefficiency.
When you call up customer service, there are two types of customer experiences.
The first (and the overwhelming majority) involves the company saying, “Thanks so much for calling. Please provide me with some information so that I can look up your account.” That’s 90% of the customer support experiences out there.
The second (and the opportunistic minority) is what the Four Seasons does so well, which is they recognize you at the first available moment. You call them up, and they’ve already looked up your account based on your phone number. They greet you by name, and the conversation then starts at your problem—and not on who you are.
This seemingly small detail will show you which companies are investing in their internal intelligent systems and which ones are not.
Another great example, and one that happens all the time, is the missed opportunity of integration between internal systems. For example, when a salesperson closes a deal, there is usually a manual process where the individual closes the opportunity in a product like SalesForce, and then has to email the accounting department to tell them the opportunity is closed and it’s time to invoice the client.
But, why waste someone’s time doing that?
Imagine if one salesperson had to perform that task four times per day. That’s four emails they could have sent to a customer, four more opportunities they could have invested time into nurturing. Now, compound that inefficiency across five salespeople, or twenty-five salespeople, multiplied by an entire year. That’s a lot of wasted effort across your entire sales team, all from one easily refined action.
Most companies think of call centers as “cost centers.” It’s a dead weight attached to the business that you “have to have” in order to keep customers happy—when in reality, most customers hate the experience of having to call and ask for help, period.
So instead of thinking of it as a “cost center,” why not think of it as a profit center—somewhere else you can upsell your customer, and give them a delightful experience? In order to do this, the business would need to invest in things like intelligent phone systems that automatically look up the customer by phone number when they call. Sure, this can be done manually by low-cost labor (which is the rationalization most companies use when debating making this sort of investment), but remember, this is what the Four Seasons does differently that makes each and every person feel special.
The moment the customer service rep has to ask the question, “What is your name or phone number so I can look up your account?” the delightful experience is gone.
Andrew has an M.S. in Computer Science from Georgia Tech University. But he prides himself over 10 years of experience working in the software industry for well-known companies such as Diebold, Tableau, Explorys, and Onshift. After years in the corporate and startup worlds as well as running his own consulting firm, Andrew realized he had to do more to improve software products and practices. From that, Skiplist was born. Skiplist is the opportunity to focus on thoughtful, quality software and change the software consulting industry.