Here’s a lesson for small business owners: More technology is not necessarily better...if you leave some customers behind.
Ordering a pizza is something we’ve all done dozens, if not hundreds, of times. You pick up the phone, call your nearest pizza place and order delivery. Easy — or is it? Not for a friend of mine who recently had a frustrating experience when he tried to order a pizza.
My friend is a musician and was in the middle of a recording session that began to run long. The guys were getting hungry, but not wanting to totally interrupt the flow of their recording, they decided not to go out for lunch. Instead, they chose the fastest, easiest possible solution: ordering a pizza.
None of them were familiar with the area around the recording studio, so my friend grabbed his phone and looked up the closest pizza place. He called to order a large cheese pizza, only to be told he'd have to place his order online — they didn't take phone orders. No problem, right? He quickly went to the website on his phone, only to find that he couldn't order a pizza without setting up an account, creating a password, etc. etc.
He didn't want to go through all that trouble for a one-time pizza order, so he gave up on that restaurant and dialed the next one that came up in his search results. At this pizza place, he couldn’t order over the phone or on their website — he had to go through the Uber Eats app. My friend doesn’t have an Uber account (he prefers Lyft) and didn't really want to create one because he has issues with Uber’s management practices. “Are you sure you can’t just take my order over the phone?” he asked. “It’s just one cheese pizza.” But the restaurant refused.
In case I haven’t made it clear, my friend is not some fuddy-duddy with a flip phone. On the contrary: he's a millennial who’s always got the newest tech gadget in hand, and last week I saw him get as excited as a kid on Christmas morning when he got a chance to use Apple Pay in a taxicab. Normally, he prefers to order pizza online — but in this situation, he just wanted to place an order, hand the delivery person a $20 bill, and get the transaction done as quickly as possible.
In general, I’m a big believer in small businesses adopting the latest technology. It can give you an incredible edge over small business competitors and even level the playing field with the big guys.
But tech for tech’s sake has always been, and continues to be, a big mistake.
At some point in the future, we may all be able to place pizza orders just by thinking hard and blinking our eyes three times. But for now, a substantial percentage of the population still prefers to do it the way it’s always been done. If those pizza restaurants were frustrating for a tech-savvy millennial, how would a senior who only uses his computer for email feel about it? Yes, your business does need to adapt to changing times and stay one step ahead of what customers are going to want in the future. But that doesn’t mean you can leave other customers completely behind.
This is a challenge for small business owners, I admit. Right now, you have to deal with multiple ways of interacting with customers, making transactions and getting paid. You might deal with one customer on the phone and another by live chat. You may sell products to college kids who never carry cash and retirees who never leave the house without a wallet full of crisp $100 bills. But unless you want to market your business as only being for one type of customer, you’ve got to make it work.
Technology enables your business to do things entrepreneurs couldn’t have dreamed of 20 years ago. But while you can get as techy as you want with your internal systems and solutions, it’s important to keep the customer-facing technology of your business in tune with what your customers want. Today, that means offering plenty of options.
Different customers prefer different ways of shopping, buying and getting customer assistance.
Not only that, but as my story exemplifies, the same customer may prefer different things at different times. It’s your job to keep them all satisfied — or lose them as customers.
Fortunately, your SCORE mentor can help you rise to the challenge and develop strategies for integrating technology in ways that attract customers instead of driving them away. Don’t have a mentor yet? Visit SCORE to get one and start getting free business advice and consulting.