By Ron Hall, Editor-in-Chief
We live and offer products and services in economic schizophrenia. Every new report -unemployment, inflation, productivity, home building activity, etc. – elicits "expert" predictions of either recovery or impending financial doom. I’m glad I’m not an economist.
The constant chatter whipsaws consumer confidence. Consequently, it’s getting pretty darn hard to figure out just what consumers are thinking beyond the obvious – the shock of the 2008-09 recession is over and they’re starting to spend again.
You tell us that consumer confidence has improved dramatically from 2009 (a disaster for many of us) and even more in 2010 and 2011. But you also don’t believe you’ll be seeing the same level of consumer euphoria that we experienced in 2005 – 2007. Not in most of our lifetimes again anyway.
The economy, although somewhat stable, remains suspect. This is a presidential election year, after all. Politically, a lot is riding on the state of the economy or more precisely, perceived state of the economy these next six months. What happens after the November election . . .well, who knows?
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) described the present as "the ever-moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow." He clearly saw what many of us now realize. There’s no such thing as normal, and certainly no "new" normal. Change in almost every aspect of our society is accelerating.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the cost of communication or the ease of access to information. The former is plummeting as the latter expands geometrically. This is good for consumers, but poses huge challenges for us service providers. It means that we must continually improve our core competencies and also continually improve and update our customer communication and marketing capabilities. Note that I used the word "continually" twice in the preceding sentence.
This, I believe, means we should look at our companies in a different light. Yes, we provide valuable services but we should also view are companies as marketing companies. Actually, depending upon the level of our firms’ service competencies, we might be better served approaching the market as marketing companies that just happen to provide these specialized and valuable services.
The point is that to compete and to beat the competition in this schizoid economy we have to stay intimately engaged with customers and become ever more visible – in positive ways – to prospects.
Consumers determine the services they want, when they want them, how they want them and at what price. They can gather an incredible amount of information easily and almost instantaneously. They use the Internet, online forums and solicit opinions from friends and family members. In many cases they probably know more about us and what we do than we do about them.
As the owners of service companies we have to equalize that communication equation. Regularly communicating with and staying abreast of customer needs and wants is absolutely crucial for small business success, especially as the public’s confidence in the economy swings from optimistic to not-so-optimistic depending on the latest chatter from the "experts".