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by ALLAN DIB

My wife and I were recently dining at one of our favourite restaurants. The food there is great, the staff are courteous and helpful and the location is spectacular – right on the beach. On a cold night they have a log wood fireplace going which really adds to the atmosphere.

We’ve been dining there for about a year or so – ever since we moved to the area. As I went to pay for the meal, I looked over and sure enough it was still there – a tattered hand written sign near their credit card machine that says, “Sorry our credit card machine doesn’t work with PINs, please sign instead. Apologies for the inconvenience”.

I marvelled at how such a high end restaurant that has got so much right, has got this one fundamental thing wrong. As a business owner, if there’s one part of interacting with my customers that I want to be as smooth and frictionless as possible, it’s the part where I get paid.

Not only was this faulty credit card machine not attended to for at least a year (that I know of) but they clearly had no intention of implementing new, even more frictionless payment technology such as Visa payWave or MasterCard PayPass.

When Technology Fails Us

The rate of technology innovation over the past few years has been nothing short of astonishing. Prior to August 2004 Google was still a private, relatively unknown company. Prior to September 2006 Facebook was still just an experiment and not yet open to the public. In mid-2007 there was no iPhone and in April 2010 the iPad was still just a rumour in geek circles.

We almost can’t imagine life without some of these technologies – yet a few short years ago they didn’t even exist.

While the pace of technology innovation has increased and continues to increase exponentially, the purpose of new technology has remained constant over thousands of years.

Plain and simple the purpose of any new technology in your business is to eliminate friction. We want the fastest and easiest path to the sale, while increasing customer satisfaction.

We also want to avoid situations where technology hinders rather than facilitates business:

As customers (of usually large institutions) we’ve all had the frustrating experience of trying to talk sense to someone who’s being held back by technology and responds with their version of “Computer says ‘No’…”.

As small business owners we must ensure technology is being used in our businesses in ways that remove friction rather than creating it.

Getting Technology To Work For You And Your Customers

Technology makes our lives easier by doing the “heavy lifting” on our behalf, whether it’s doing a complex calculation, lifting a concrete block into place or searching through thousands of publications to find that obscure literary reference you’re looking for.

Yet sometimes it’s like we implement technology for technology’s sake. When helping business owners with their marketing, I often ask people what the purpose of their website, Twitter or Facebook page is. I rarely get a succinct and direct answer.

Back when the iPod came out, this was the only legal way to load new music onto it:

  • Drive down to the local music store and buy a CD with the music you want.
  • Insert the CD into the computer and import the contents into your computer hard drive.
  • Sync the iPod with the computer so it copies all the music over.

Despite this painful process, the iPod was still a huge success, however when Apple introduced the iTunes Store, the success of the iPod exploded and it also laid the foundation for the iPhone and iPad.

The technology Apple introduced greatly reduced the friction between consumer and merchant. The same can be said of Amazon, Google, Visa payWave or MasterCard PayPass and many other successful technologies.

By reducing friction, technology helps us do in a fraction of the time what would have taken us hours, days or years to accomplish without it.

So how can you use technology to reduce the friction between you and your customers? What tasks can you streamline and make seamless?

More importantly how can you ensure technology isn’t hindering your relationship with your customers?

Here’s how I do it

I like to think of each piece of technology as an employee. What am I hiring this employee to do? What are it’s KPI’s?

Take the example of a website. It’s pretty common that a business will have a website with no specific goal – just some vague notion or hope that customers will come their way because they have put up an online version of their brochure.

By contrast every smart entrepreneur I know uses technology with very specific goals in mind that are measurable. For example a website can be used for selling a product or getting prospects to opt-in to a marketing database.

These things are measurable and can have KPI’s attached to them. We know instantly if they’re working or not and we fire the ones that aren’t working and we continue improving the ones that are.

Now may be a good time to rethink the various ways you use technology in your business. Are they reducing friction? Are they doing what they were hired to do?