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By: Michael Plummer
Technology doesn’t come easily for everyone. Which is understandable. We teach our children things like their ABCs, colors and numbers and how to tie their shoes. But if you’ve noticed, we often just hand little kids our tablets and phones, and they seem to teach themselves how to work them overnight. So if you were born without a smartphone in your hand, you may feel like you’ve missed out on the technological revolution.
But that can hurt your company’s evolution. If you want your business to change with the times, your company has to keep up with technology. So if you’re struggling and wish you could hire or find — or even become — a technology change agent for your company, keep these thoughts and strategies in mind.
Somebody has to take the lead in technology.
But that somebody does not have to be you. A quick little background: My father, Michael Plummer Sr., started Our Town America in 1972. I officially joined the company in 2001, after four years as a combat medic, called away from my station in South Korea on an emergency leave because my father suffered from a major heart attack. My father fortunately recovered, but I stayed on with the company to help him out. He passed away too soon, in 2009, and then I ended up taking over the organization.
At that point, the company was very much a product of the 20th century and hadn’t quite evolved for the 21st. Even then, I was very comfortable using technology to elevate our new mover marketing program, but I know everyone isn’t wired to be wired. If you recognize that your company needs a tech overhaul, you’d do well to hire a consultant to tell you what you need to do — or hire a chief technology officer (CTO).
Whatever route you take, you need to get the right advice from someone who knows what they’re doing. New technology doesn’t just have the upfront cost. There are also often maintenance costs or fees, and a lot of staff time devoted to training. Plus, some technology upgrades simply aren’t as reliable as you had hoped. You need someone on your team who knows what type of technology your company needs — and can anticipate what type of technology your business will need in the future.
You need customer-friendly technology.
Chances are, your customers don’t want to spend hours learning the nuts and bolts of the technology your company offers. So, it has to be easy to work with for everyone. Our Town America, for instance, has cell phone apps that allow customers to easily redeem gift certificates. If you know how to turn on your phone, you can use our app.
But our business is far from the only company out there that uses technology well. Think of how Amazon has transformed online shopping, or consider how second-nature it is for customers to order food from restaurants. Artificial intelligence and robo-advisors have reshaped how the financial services industries operate. As soon as drones became available for everyday businesses, real estate agents began using them — to take better photos of homes and commercial properties.
The technology that helps your customers may be complex, but if you want it to be accessible to everyone, it has to be as easy as possible.
Your employees need to understand your company’s technology.
That’s probably obvious — but I’ve witnessed some business owners who have seemed to forget this rule. Last March, the business and technology consulting firm, West Monroe Partners, based out of Chicago, conducted a survey of 500 managers across the United States and found that 59% of managers overseeing at least two people hadn’t received training on their latest automated technology — and 41% of managers overseeing three to five employees had also received zero training.
I don’t know what the thinking is behind not training employees, but it’s shortsighted. I’m a big believer in technology, but a company’s best assets are always going to be its people and not its tech, and to not train people to use your technology is dangerous to your customer service and your bottom line.
Your technology has to be updated.
Constantly. People, culture and, yes, technology are always changing. Think back to 2001 when people had cell phones, but little else — cameras in phones, mobile apps and social media were not prominent yet. In 2007, the iPhone came about, and a little over a decade later, there have been well over 10 models of the iPhone. It may not seem like it, but even five years from now, technology — and how your business uses it — will probably look markedly different from how it does now. For all we know, we’ll all be using cryptocurrency in five years. I kind of doubt it, but I could lose a lot of cryptocurrency making that bet.
Remember why staying on top of technology is important.
It’s easy to think that there’s no harm in waiting to see what the rest of the world does before you make a lot of investments in your company’s technology, and it is true, that you could go broke, constantly investing in the latest and greatest. But that, again, is why somebody at your company needs to be interested in technology. You may not be able to afford to constantly invest in technology, but you can’t afford to not invest in it either. Because your competitors are investing in it.
I have no doubt that my dad would have invested even more heavily in our company sooner or later. But that’s the thing — if technology isn’t your specialty, you can no longer wait for someone to lead your business into the future. The future is showing up faster than it used to, and it’s imperative to have a tech change agent on board who truly gets it!