Although I may have never set foot inside your office, I am well aware of an internal debate taking place over there. The debate has to do with how quickly you should be integrating the Internet into the way you do business.
As a traditional company, you don’t rely on the Internet per se to conduct your business, and you still have many, many customers who don’t have Internet access at home (estimates for the Northeast currently hover at about 50% of households).
The lack of an overwhelming majority of your customers who are dependent on the Internet to do business with you seems to add credence to the perspective that, “we shouldn’t launch web centric initiatives yet, because they won’t work for our offline customers, and may in fact alienate them.”
I’m sure you can guess where I come out on this debate!You don’t want to wait until the bulk of your customers are online to begin using the Internet as an integral part of your business tactics.
1. Your Competition Is Already Doing It.
There are web-based companies out there that are actively, aggressively, literally trying to destroy your (traditional) business model and put you out of business. It’s extremely likely — regardless of the business you are in — that somebody has already set their sites on you (and your customers).
By definition, all these web-based businesses (and 100% of their customers) are online. And as a result, they aren’t having that same internal debate. These companies are already charging ahead and learning what works and what doesn’t. Every single day.
Meanwhile, back home in the old economy, the rest of us are sitting in meetings arguing over whether the time has finally come to invest the resources necessary to develop an email based customer feedback channel, or an opt-in electronic newsletter, or whatever.
You still need to support your offline customers, certainly. But at a minimum, 80% of thinking ought to be focused on how you will interact with customers once Internet access becomes as ubiquitous as the telephone.
2. If You Wait Until It’s Undeniably Time, It Will Be Too Late.
You will have missed the chance to learn, to experiment and to fall on your face (as online companies are doing now), BEFORE your customers are paying attention.
To put it bluntly, this is the time to fail! Today there is still a tremendous amount of forgiveness for poor online execution.
If you don’t believe me, try this experiment. Ask yourself:
“What is a reasonable turnaround time for a retail web site to respond to a question?”
(In other words, how long should you expect to wait for LandsEnd, Fleet Bank, MediaOne, or anybody else online to get back to you?)
The response I get most often to this question is, “24 hours.” One day feels about right to most people.
HERE’S THE PROOF: If 24 hours is reasonable online, why do you curse these same companies when it takes them two minutes to answer the telephone???
ANSWER: Because all of us set the bar higher for the established medium of the telephone. There is no forgiveness anymore for poor execution of a company’s phone system. Tomorrow, there will be no forgiveness for poor online execution either.
BOTTOM LINE: Get in there and make your mistakes now, while nobody is looking. With each day you wait, your competition gets smarter and the standards get higher!