Small business can be forgiven. When you start a business you want to get it right and there isn’t always the time to understand why you do all things you do. You need a website. Why? Because you do. And a twitter account and a Facebook page. And you need an office and a store with a shop window display and an accountant and letter-headed paper and business cards. Still don’t quite know why but better safe than sorry.
Big business should know better but despite having years of experience, industry expertise, resource and time to deliberate on what really makes sense for their business, many continue pointless practices and, in many cases, they don’t even know why they do them.
These are my top 4 pointless business practices
I’m reminded of this every time I pay for petrol and a heavily tattooed, suicidal looking goth mumbles “have a nice day” at me.
Why do they say that? Because they’ve been told to say it. It’s called “customer service”. It’s because this is what large, successful retailers do. They meet and greet their customers and say nice things to them. But the fact is, most retailers don’t know why they’re getting their staff to say things like “have a nice day”. Simply aping the behavior of successful people without understanding why they do what they do is a big mistake. The thing is, staff in the successful retailers care. They actually care about their customers and as a consequence they are nice to them. I would much rather retailers stop training their staff to tell me to have a nice and instead, train them to give a shit. The rest will come naturally.
2. Putting your fax number on your email signature
Think about it. When was the last time you received a fax? So why do you include it on your email signature ? Or your business cards for that matter? You would prefer to receive emails, people would rather send you emails and soft copies are much more convenient and environmentally friendly.
So to recap – you have a piece of information about yourself, your fax number, that you would rather not share and in any case, no-one wants to know it.
And you tell it to everyone because ..?
3. Sign for anything
When I receive a parcel at home, the DHL guy hands me an electronic device for me to sign – I presume to confirm he’s delivered the parcel. It doesn’t work. Even when I try to sign, it’s not ergonomically suited to signing and even if I press hard, most of the signature doesn’t appear. I’ve taken to using my left hand, writing from right to left, drawing a smiley face, scribbling. The delivery guy doesn’t care that I’m not signing properly and nobody dies. So what’s the point?
People try to justify this practice. They say that a confirmation of receipt is an important part of the process without which it’s impossible to know whether the parcel was received safely. Duh! That fact that the parcel isn’t in the van anymore combined with the fact that I’m not complaining it hasn’t arrived is a fairly good clue that it was received safely.
When is a signature ever important? My handwriting is so inconsistent after years of typing and I haven’t written cheque in more than 10 years. I wouldn’t even recognize my own signature nowadays. Even in business, it remains customary to physically sign to approve things. Workflow and email confirmations afford much greater security than a penned signature – but we still do it. Even when a signature is a legal or constitutional requirement it’s not necessary. Only this year President Obama “signed” the fiscal cliff bill even though he was nowhere near the pen that signed it.
This is what Ian Burden refers to as our thinking being constrained by 19th century assumptions. In the 19th century, a signature inked on parchment and possibly verified using a wax seal was a perfectly pragmatic way of verifying authenticity. Today, the hand written signature is pointless.
4. Sending paper invoices
Paper invoices are generated from electronic records held within a computerized finance system. The electronic record is converted to a paper invoice using a printer. This is then sealed in an envelope and mailed to a customer. The customers then opens the envelope and converts the paper invoice to a digital record in their computerized finance system. You may ask yourself “why convert from digital to paper only to have to convert paper to digital again?” And you’d be right to ask. Apart from a few exceptions where local legislation requires a paper invoice by law, there is no good reason to send paper invoices.
So why do businesses do it? Ask them and they’ll give a range of reasons. Among the most common are these:
Cost – Cost is not a reason to send paper invoices. There are free-to-supplier electronic invoice services out there and even those that charge cost less than the paper equivalent. Cost is actually a reason to stop sending paper invoices.
“Our tax people say we need to send paper” – They’re wrong. There are exceptions and you do need to take care to comply with the law but generally, they’re wrong. In most parts of the world, implemented correctly, electronic invoices can replace the traditional requirement for paper.
Technology – Electronic invoicing is simple to implement for small and large business alike. If you can order from Amazon, you can send electronic invoices.
Thinking that paper is required because an invoice is somehow a legal document is a complete fallacy. The conversion of a digital record to paper and back again is a pointless and time consuming exercise that adds no value. It is costly to send paper, it can be unreliable and it damages the environment. So why do you do it?
Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin