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Are your customers enthusiastic about giving you their time?

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Last week I explained: I compete for your attention against Netflix. Time spent with me on this page needs to have a higher payoff for you than switching to streaming something on your device. Netflix, too is competing for your attention. Not just against a local TV channel, but against anything that might prove a better use of time.

This doesn’t just apply to things that can be digitized. You, too, are competing for time and attention, no matter how non-digital you think your world is. Allow me to explain.

If you’re a bank, you need to make your customers enthusiastic about giving you their time – in your branches and on your app. You need to ensure that the time they give you is time well spent. For that you have to be more efficient and more quick than your competing banks are. The one who can make the entire banking experience fast, smooth and pleasant wins.

That requires you to rethink how you organise yourself: in your branches; in the app’s user journey; and in the back-office processing engine. You must optimise on time, and beat your neighbours at this.

But wait, this goes beyond your fellow banks. What if the customer discovers M-Pesa – as a payments, savings and loan option, in addition to mere money transfers? What if those functions are done way quicker in the growing M-Pesa universe than your heavily regulated bank, struggling with ponderous legacy IT systems, can pull off? I think you know the answer. That gives you a lot more to think about in your strategy.

What if you are a major retailer, heavily invested in bricks-and-mortar stores? Well, it had better be worth your customers’ time to come all the way to those stores in the traffic. They had better find something worth spending the time on. They had better encounter helpful, pleasant and competent staff. They had better not waste valuable time in your queues. They had better encounter a pleasing and easy-to-navigate shopfloor. And they had better be able to complete their purchases in one go, with no need to go anywhere else or come back again.

If you can’t do that, someone else will. The shop similar to yours in the mall; or the one setting up an online shopping experience.

Wait, what if you make and sell something as basic as alcohol? You don’t have to worry about time and attention, do you? Yeah, you do. If your customer is just buying straightforward inebriation, then you might be OK against other booze companies, provided your product and pricing is better than the rest. But how many customers are actually buying a pleasant time-pass? How many of them are actually just socialising, with the alcohol there as an accessory? In that case Netflix, Fortnite and Facebook are also your competitors. So is Safaricom, for your customer may weigh up this option: should I spend Sh 1,000 on a data bundle so that I can interact with all my buddies around the world; or Sh 1,000 sitting in a bar with two friends?

Are you a professional service provider? Can your clients only interact with your business by coming to your office? Is it easy to get to? Does finding parking take forever? When they are finally seated before you, do you ramble on interminably to show off your knowledge, and require many meetings for anything to happen? Or do you understand that your real purpose is to help your clients to succeed in their own lives, that you must deliver a proper result in the shortest space of time, and that you must reorganise your offering to achieve this? Before an online solution pops up to take your place?

You get the point. Always-on, always-connected digital devices have enabled us all to do a whole bunch of things remarkably quickly, easily and cheaply. We are used to the new convenience. We appreciate not having our time wasted by the disorganised, the dreary and the dull. We like being able to make device-driven choices on how we spend our time. And we get irritated by those businesses that just don’t get it – digital or analogue.

So if you’re in business, you don’t just need to optimise on quality or price. You also need to ask yourself this: how do we save customers more of their time, and what do we need to do to deserve their attention?

(Sunday Nation, 5 May 2019)

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