Understanding that people are performing thousands of searches every day for every imaginable product, service, and industry, the question becomes, “What do we do about it?”

By now, most businesses realize the need to have a website. Unfortunately, few businesses have fully grasped the true value a website could offer. They assume that having a few web pages with an address, a phone number, and maybe a list of products is all that they need. And three years ago, that may have been true.

But as time goes on, your customers (as well as your employees, vendors, and other audiences) will expect more from your website. If they don’t already, they will eventually want to see inventory levels, buy products, get information, schedule service calls, view past orders, and pay bills all through your website. And if you don’t empower them with information and the ability to perform tasks they want, somebody else will.

The good news is that this type of functionality in your website doesn’t have to be a necessary cost of doing business. If done properly, it can be the means by which you grow your profit margin while also offering better service to your clients.

For example, we have seen clients grow their total sales by 25, 50 or even 100% over a period of 3-4 years using a comprehensive search engine optimization strategy. All while actually decreasing the number of customer service reps they employ. The reason is that in their traditional model, clients placed orders via phone, fax, and emails. Those orders were received by customer services reps who entered them into the company’s inventory management system, printed a pick ticket for the warehouse, and forwarded the necessary information to billing (who spent thousands of dollars a year in postage for all the invoices they sent out).

But by empowering clients to enter orders themselves on the company’s website, and by designing an intranet system for the client to easily manage the data, countless hours of employee time previously devoted to taking and entering orders were saved. Noticeable reductions in errors were also achieved by allowing customers to enter orders directly into the system, not to mention the savings in postage by allowing customers to pay through the website with a credit card. Plus, providing customers access to information on products, pricing, and past orders, additional employee time was saved that traditionally would have been spent responding to these requests. These are just a couple of examples of ways to streamline and automate business processes to better serve the customer and improve your bottom line.

The most common objection I’ve heard to this type of thinking is not wanting to empower the customer so much that the personal interaction with a sales rep is lost. That is definitely a noble position, and I basically have two responses.

First, if there are clients that truly want that type of personal attention, give it to them. Technology is not intended to take the place of a personal relationship. It is supposed to enhance them, allowing you to truly build relationships by spending less time serving as glorified order takers. But my second response is that more and more customers want to be empowered. They want access to more information, and they don-t want to depend on your people to do things for them.

This is the direction business is moving. Those that will thrive as our economy goes this direction are the ones who will offer these options to their clients before the client demands them.

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