Business as usual – when “usual” changes
Business today is in many ways different to business fifty years ago, ten years ago – even five years ago. Every business operating today is affected by the changes, and it amazes me how few people are aware of the impact these changes will make.
There’s a definite shift in customers’ focus. No longer are they looking for the ‘cheapest’ or the (completely subjective) ‘best’. No longer will a customer stay with a firm just because they’ve been with them for years, or because they’ve looked after the past ten generations of the family. You can’t rely on blind loyalty, and today’s consumers won’t suffer bad service or minimal/insufficient provision. Today’s consumers are confident in their rights and know their options. They’re hungry and expect much more than previous generations – and I think this is fantastic.
I contend that consumers today have three key focuses: health (just look at the Fitbit craze), experience and novelty and (perhaps most relevant to us) time. Ideally, I’d love my firm to provide our clients with the cure for cancer, or a crazy event that they can post on Facebook. However, the reality in practice is that the emotional trigger that we can really tap into, as a service business, is TIME. Every customer is (rightly) a priority and our focus.
The next blunt reality is a key belief of mine and something I push regularly. Business is no longer business-to-business or business-to-consumer: it’s 100% human-to-human. There is no doubt that absolutely nobody wants to deal with a corporate voice. They want to deal with a real person - someone they know, like and trust. We may have all systemised our businesses after reading “The E-Myth Revisited”; but the truth is that you need extraordinary people as well as extraordinary systems.
Another key change in business is the undeniable reducing need for humans in certain areas. Robots will be a novelty, but not necessarily a nice one.
I use a really simple way of analysing businesses ripe for automation. Imagine a scale – with specialist skills (requiring human input – think making furniture vs. repairing antique furniture) on one axis, and interpersonal skills on another.
I would suggest that the furniture repairer can get away with grunting monosyllabic noises as his eye for detail, his hands, and his patience will be required in the future. Dentists are probably laughing right now. Who would go into the chair if the dentist lacked either calming charm or specialist skills? Those in corporate finance are probably also safe as whilst the numbers can be crunched by a machine, the human to human interactions in negotiation is vital.
However, I fear bookkeepers, and the accountants who spend most of their time looking in the rearview mirror and simply “bean counting” will struggle to compete with the automated systems which, with their speed and unfaltering accuracy, will inevitably replace them. They won’t be the only victims, either. Automation is, and will increasingly continue to be, a major change to the business, and it’s important to work out what your business can offer that automation can’t.
Following the theme of new additions to the workforce, I wish to reinforce that millennials are no longer a novelty. The idea that millennials are now coming into the workforce and transforming everything is sheer hype – it’s not true. They are here, and of course, they are making a difference, but they aren’t a new arrival. I’m at the older end of the millennial generation and have been in practice for nearly 19 years now having started at 16 (which is scary for both me and for those who think they have got time to adapt to ‘changes’). Millennials are already firmly in place and doing their thing.
Customers have changed. Communication methods have changed. Desires have changed. The way we work and consume has changed. Business is constantly changing - it’s a fact of life – and a fact that needs to be embraced by both sides of the equation.