E-Commerce Business – Proceed With Caution

There is an epidemic in the United States. An epidemic that is so overlooked, if gone unchecked any longer, could cripple the economic strata of the U.S. An epidemic that could be responsible for the genocide of millions of businesses. Curious what it is? I am referring to the gross mismanagement of e-commerce businesses. Okay, perhaps the phrases “cripple the economic strata” and “genocide of millions of businesses” was stretching a bit too far, however, it is a fact that the bulk of e-commerce businesses are not built on an infrastructure that embodies stability. I am referring to a lack of customer service support in the umbrella of businesses designating themselves “e-commerce” or “virtual businesses”.

It is true that the lure of starting the e-commerce business is powerful. An endeavor as such usually requires little or no capital investment, a credit card processing account, and rudimentary knowledge of HTML coding. These three elements compose the basic formula for starting an e-commerce business. There is a marked difference in the formula for starting a business and the formula for maintaining a business. To expound on the latter, what truly makes a business thrive is proper customer relationship management and immediate telephone / live voice account support. This is the key component that is missing from most on-line or “virtual” businesses.

Take, for instance, the internet based company Netflix. If you are unfamiliar with the company, they are a relatively young e-commerce business specializing in mail order DVD rental. The minds behind the ingenious idea that is the basis of Netflix failed to create telephone support for their product. There is no doubt this decision was a calculated one as they most likely weighed the cost of maintaining an in-house call center vs. integrating purely e-mail based support. Without looking at the numbers side of the argument, imagine the frustrated consumer having problems with their order and having to rely on a 24 hour lagged e-mail response system to rectify their account issues.

Based on this plausible conjecture, I believe lack of live operator support will be the ruin of the Netflix organization and the downfall of all e-commerce businesses that follow the same train of thought. What these businesses do not realize is that it is possible and extremely cost effective to outsource your call center needs to an established advanced call center facility. This solution has a two fold benefit. It serves to establish a solid foundation of customer relationship management and opens businesses up to benefit from word of mouth advertising.

I believe even a small internet business can greatly benefit from utilizing a call center to manage their customer service or sales calls. The initial investment is usually zero (excluding research time to find the appropriate facility) and most call centers charge on a per call basis (meaning you only get charged for the calls they actually receive). If looking at business from the customer’s perspective as opposed to looking at it from an initial profit standpoint, it behooves all e-commerce businesses to initially setup a live call center to manage all of their calls. If the infrastructure is not initially setup correctly, your business may fail before it has even begun.

Friendly, Curious Listening

Listen to the person that challenges you as though they are a teacher. Suspend your own agenda momentarily. Become friendly and curious. See what you learn.

We all know that listening is a good thing and we should do more of it. There are many things that can get in the way. If you don’t care, don’t have time, don’t want to hear what’s being said or think it’s a waste of time, your listening will be hampered.

Listening is more than just closing your mouth. True listening is a multi-layered and complex skill. But it is essentially a decision to set your agenda aside and be present and attentive to another person. This can be a tremendous act of courage and kindness.

When you really listen to another person you’re actively saying to the other person: “I value you and what you have to say and will give you my attention, time and energy while you speak. I’ll even do this if you say something I don’t want to hear”.

Kind, courageous listening is easier when you take an attitude of friendly curiosity, especially when you hear something that makes you uncomfortable. This requires suspending your agenda for a while.

For example, Suzanne, a Director in a global software company, was used to thinking fast, making quick decisions and acting on gut reactions. When she was angrily confronted by one of her sales managers she initially felt shocked. But this quickly shifted to angry defensiveness. Her attention was focused on warding off the attack from her manager and this became her emotional agenda. As a result, she couldn’t really listen.

The conflict between them, not surprisingly, didn’t go away. With a bit of prompting, Suzanne tried something new. She became curious about what was going on with the manager and showed a friendly interest in what he was saying.

When she approached him this way, Suzanne was happily surprised to see the sales manager’s anger almost immediately start to melt away. They went on to have a productive discussion about the issue that he was concerned about. She also learned about an upcoming business challenge that had been invisible to her.

Even though Suzanne was surprised, the process was highly predictable. When people are listened to, they feel “heard” and valued. Most people really appreciate this! As a result, they will very often drop their guarded, angry positions.

You don’t have to abandon your agenda, just set it aside long enough to take in what is going on for the other person.

Curiosity is your best ally here. Friendly or warm curiosity is even better. It invites the other person to connect and make contact. It can also be an enjoyable state that supports learning. This is a powerful base for productive work of any kind.

Action Steps:

1. When someone challenges you, notice how you react. Notice how your body, emotions and thoughts can all go into a familiar defensive pattern.

2. Notice how this defensive pattern affects how you feel; about yourself, about your relationship with the person who challenged you, about the activities you’re involved with.

3. When you are in a guarded or defensive state, take note of any emotional agenda. Are you aware of how this shuts the other person out?

4. Practice setting aside your agenda(s) for how things are supposed to be, for just a few moments. See what opens up for you.

5. Practice friendly curiosity. Play with it as an attitude of warmth and openness. When you’re ready, try it in a conversation with someone who challenges you.

6. Notice how friendly curiosity can alter not only how you feel and act, but how it affects those you are involved with.

7. If you know of someone who could benefit from this information, please pass this information on. This can be a friendly way to start a discussion about communication.

8. Subscribe to the Enlightened Edge™ newsletter.

The Natural Learner – Why Being Curious Matters

Are you curious about the world? Do you find yourself researching new topics, making discoveries and linking them to how you live your life, run your company, or why you make certain choices? If so, you may be a natural learner. This is important for many reasons, most of all because the more you learn, the better off you will be in any given situation. It is not necessary that you know everything about everything, but enough to meet the people who are the experts in that particular field of study. Why? Should you ever need their expertise, you now have a resource to go to who is a friend or colleague.

Being curious about the world is important for business owners and entrepreneurs as well. It is the entrepreneur who finds a gap in the marketplace and fills it with a product or service that meets or beats the competition. Entrepreneurship can happen at almost any moment, if you are aware of it. You don’t need to be an expert at the solution that you find, just having the idea and assembling your team may be enough to get your business up and running. At this time, you need to call in your expert friends to help take your idea and ground it into reality.

Why I Like Learning
I will admit that I am not a fan of school, yet I am a huge fan of education. While I do not like how the school system is set up, I love to learn and educate myself and others on topics I find interesting. There is something special about researching and discovering things on your own versus being told about them in a classroom setting.

Galileo says it best this way:

You cannot teach a person anything; you can only help him find it within himself.

As someone who is curious about the world, I am continually in search for answers. Answers about anything and everything, as at some point, they all cross paths. One of the reasons I study people so much through psychology, behavior, the brain, etc. is because business, especially the service industry, is made up of people. And to better understand how people react, why they react, and more importantly why they trust and buy from some companies and not others, I need to understand them. Yet, I also need to understand business development, branding, identity, and marketing techniques. You see, those two broad topics, business development and psychology, actually fit together more tightly than one may think.

Interconnectedness
The more I research, read, and talk to others in similar fields and completely different fields of study, the more I see that everything is interconnected. It may be a few layers deep, but on some level, at some point, there is a connection. From my point of view, this is where the entrepreneur really utilizes their leadership skills. They must understand the big picture and be able to bring in the technical experts from a wide range of professions to come together and be empowered by the vision that is laid out in front of them. This is where being curious about the world comes into play.

Can Your Company Be Curious?
So how, from a business development perspective, can a business implement this idea? Well, for starters, the owners can have a company wide meeting where they invite their employees to share their interests both in the field and outside the field to get a better idea for how they currently fit into the system, and where they should be in the system. By allowing employees to be open about their opinions and views on all topics, it creates a dialogue and that dialogue may lead to a new product that could be brought to market, or a new service that could be offered. Just as being curious yourself and asking a lot of questions, as the owner you should be curious about your employees, as you never know who they may know and or what ideas they have that can help elevate the company.