Monday, January 4, 2010

How to simplify your social life. Hide the back office, KISS your customers and set some service boundaries.

Simple Life 天空舞台
Business managers really don’t care about social media. It's simple. They want whatever you’re doing there with your Twitface stuff to turn into sales. They care about it being profitable today, tomorrow, and next week. They care about it not costing the company another server, web development guy, and an admin to run it. Social marketing is about what goes on behind the scenes to them.

Blog readers want it simple also. They want the text served up with entertainment and information and they want it weekly or more often. They don’t care whether you’re using Blogger or WordPress or counting visits to your page. Can they get it on their iPhone or Droid? Even better. SEO and social media technology is what goes on inside or under the hood.

There are things that you can do to make sure that your customers find what they are looking for and you have the most time to spend with them. The three things that help you simplify your social life online are
  • hide the back office
  • simplify for your customers, and
  • set service boundaries
Hide the back office

In a restaurant, there’s the front of house and then there’s the back of house. The front is polished mahogany and soft lighting. The back is all business built with cheap and sturdy concrete and made to run efficiently. Advertising the details of your back office business service to your customers is a mistake. They don’t concern themselves with the complexity of the technical machinations that you went through to get the service provided.

Sure, some people are curious but it’s not going to add value, so it’s not worth the time. I’ve asked and got tours of kitchens before because I was curious but the staff isn’t going to offer up a pantry parade so they can maximize their customer time instead. The cooks are more annoyed that you are in their tight work quarters than happy to see you take interest in their technique.

Your customers, whether your boss or a blog reader, prefer simple. Don’t tell them about Twitter or Facebook fan pages or the thousands of choices that they have available to slice and dice the information. Sometimes a simple web page will be all that they need. Keep it simple and clean and show them only what is useful and usable to them. It will also let you maximize your time on the part that needs focus.

Simplify for your customers

Your customer relationship is the most important part of your business. No customers… no business. So you want to make sure that the customer understands what you are trying to get to them as a business. That relationship that you let them see is what you can call a service interface. The front of house is the food service interface of the restaurant for the customer. The back of house is the implementation of the food service.

Maintaining a simple and secure interface is a software programming principle but one that is applicable to business services like those that you who are doing the tweeting and the blogging are running. The business service anyone involved in using social media is engaging in is providing an information service. And the principles of interface design apply to services whether a business activity or a more technical web service.

This KISS (Keep It Simple and Stupid) principle for whittling down the unnecessary parts of the project/process/code is found throughout modern business implemented in such frameworks as Extreme Programming, Agile project management, or Lean Software Development. Maybe there are so many systems to get rid of useless jetsam and flotsam because people aren’t good at recognizing it.

There’s certainly no lack of people telling us to remove all the unnecessary parts but few people telling us how and giving us examples.  Einstein is typically hauled in to the conversation when people raise the flag for decreasing complexity with an ironic over-simplification of his quote about simplicity that goes “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.“ You have to wonder why Al couldn’t have said it that simple.

After teaching years of business and software analysis, it’s understandable to me why there aren’t better systems for performing business simplification. Business analysis is a hard job and people usually don’t have anyone to learn it from. I’ve seen some natural analysts who did it out of sheer self-preservation but no one recognized just how good they were. So I know it’s happening out there.

The business task that focuses on simplification is to attain the perfect size and shape of your business service. When it is as simple as possible, it becomes the stupid thing as the KISS acronym originally intended, and not the person using it. When the service has the right size, it has a boundary that keeps it from growing by scope creep or shrinking from budget cuts. The right size of a business service allows for efficient management today and scalability for tomorrow.

Boundary setting

The setting of the boundary of your business service is determined in an analysis phase of a project. To Steve Blank, who blogs about customer development for startups, it would be called achieving the product/market fit. To a software analyst, it would be called doing requirements gathering completely. It’s a continuous process and in reality it never ends. For a software application, the complete requirements can only be determined when the project is deployed. Then, there’s always the next maintenance release. For a business, it means keeping in touch with your customers and scaling up when appropriate.

As an information service, you should follow a process to set your business boundaries.  The steps follow a simple quality regimen. They are:
  • estimate the scope
  • test it out
  • figure out if it works and change scope if necessary
  • deploy the service
If you are familiar with W. Edwards Deming, you may recognize this pattern. It’s his Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle put into context for right-sizing of your business service.

The toughest part is estimating the initial scope of the service (to be covered in the next post of this blog). You test it out by taking your service to a small group of people. Marketing departments typically have focus groups for product development testing. Software groups have alpha and beta test programs.

If you are posting comments in a social network, confine yourself to one group until you get the hang of it. If you are on Twitter, be happy with the 10 to 20 followers you have and talk to them. If you are making a few mistakes, it’s easy to correct them at this point. You have a close relationship with these beta testers and they should know that they have significant impact on your final product.

Then assess the results, change your course appropriately, and go whole hog. You’ll know if the results are right when you can ask and get comfortable answers to these questions:
  • Did you get what the service said it was going to give?
  • Did I promise something more than what I was able to deliver?
  • Did you expect something that you didn’t get from my service?
  • Would you miss this service if it were not available? (Thanks, Steve Blank)
If you don’t get satisfactory answers, then figure out what the customers want and rescope. When you finally get good responses, put it on the road.

By keeping the unnecessary details from your customers, creating a simple interface, and setting boundaries on your personal or corporate services, you’ll find that you are doing both you and your customers a favor. They get what they need faster and you end up with more time and to take care of them.  Make 2010 a simple and focused year for your business strategy.

Image by d!zzy via Flickr

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