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When the miracle fairy clocks off
Compared to even a decade ago, we business folk operate in a world of magical speed and convenience.
A 2011 business person would be open mouthed with awe at the everyday tools we take for granted. lnstant payment systems. Phone-camera receipt scans that go straight to the ledger with no key-in. Not having to carry credit cards.
For us spoiled 2021 folk, all these things are no more a miracle than getting water out of the office kitchen tap.
And that complacency can punish your business badly when you least expect it.
It never occurs to you: what happens when the miracles fairy decides to clock off for a while?
Here’s a spooky story that happened around Halloween. One of our businesses nearly got killed by a random decision made by software at one of our giant tech suppliers.
One day, with zero warning, our payment processing provider emailed to let us know that we were operating illegally.
They had already shut us down.
It was the day before we did monthly billing for thousands of subscription customers.
For reasons too boring to go into, moving to a new platform would have taken several months, by which time those customers would have abandoned us.
It was potentially fatal for the business.
“Do your own fucking help, clients.”
We needed help, fast.
The payment platform is a global brand. Was there a phone number we could call? No.
Surely online help chat? No, just a searchable archive of help articles. No answers there.
There was a “24-7” email contact form. Which got no response at any point.
So we’re left adrift and terrified, by a supplier that’s happy to take our money without accountability.
I know it’s 2021 and it’s too expensive to have rooms full of phone operators explaining how to use your product.But if you sell a product with ongoing fees that businesses literally live or die by each day, I’d expect better when you make a business-killing error.
Our partner who runs our business was up all night sweating, trying to save us from permanent damage.
His last desperate roll of the dice was a late-night message to their most senior exec in Australia via that spammiest of media, a LinkedIn message to a total stranger.
I’m assuming his LinkedIn inbox, like mine, is a solid wall of “I noticed we are both like-minded individuals, so I’m reaching out to identify new collaboration opportunities.”
Incredibly, the exec responded that night.
The reason I’m not naming them is that that noble guy spent the next 24 hours battling their own internal systems to save the day.
Bow down to US law, peasants
Turns out their bots had detected us selling a prescription product in the mail, which is illegal.
It’s a prescription product in the US. Not in Australia. You can buy it from any online pet store here.
You’re thinking: surely a US company operating around the world might be aware that the US doesn’t hand down global law.
Ha. Welcome to the future, peasants. 10x scaling has no time for your stupid local complications.
Anyway, local hero exec managed to get their US people to reverse the ban a day later. They have since followed up with decent apologies in the form of both words and money, which was honourable.
We were luckier than the customers of another payment platform, whose customers have launched a class action. A tech outage meant thousands of retailers, cafes and other small businesses couldn’t take non-cash payments for up to four weeks.
Where would that leave your business?
Check the help situation before it’s critical
With great convenience comes great dependence, grasshopper.
If you want to sleep at night, it pays to go through your business periodically and ask yourself:
“What essential suppliers currently have you over a barrel?”
Even though they all seem pleasant and reliable now, what if one of them did randomly email one day and say: no more service for you?
What’s it like trying to get help?
Do they have local representatives who can understand your situation?
How long would it take to move over to an alternative?
Tip: if you’re thinking about committing to an essential service, do some low-key customer response tests. Use the supplier on a smaller scale, then try to get in touch for help on some issue.
If you have to fight through endless digital defence shields before you get a response, that’s a red flag.
The costs of saving money
Situations like this are where rock-bottom, procurement department purchasing decisions come home to roost. They cut all the margin for service delivery, so now you must deal with a supplier that doesn’t feel like responding until next week.
And when they do, you must speak to clowns.
Though colossal suppliers like banks or telcos can be dicks to deal with, at least you know you can always contact them and they won’t go out of business.
Say your website goes down. Your online freelancer who set it up for $79 isn’t on that site any more. You forgot to get all the passwords and keys from them back when you launched.
Now you must endure days, weeks of stress and expensive distraction trying to sort it out. While customers spend their cash elsewhere. That $79 isn’t looking such a useful saving now, is it?
(If you’re in sales, this is a productive topic to study. If you can offer accountability and a big-picture understanding of the commercial risks customers face, it’s a strong pitch. They’ll pay more for lower risk if they can see it clearly.)
Big companies have risk committees as part of their board structure, and rightly so. For businesses of all sizes, the waters are churning with potential dangers.
You tend to focus on the big ones: competitors, market downturns, insurance cover, government policy.
Like sharks, it’s the one you don’t see that bites you.
It’s worth taking the time for a deep, lateral think on what risks could take you down.
It might not be a supplier. It might be one staff member who holds all the knowledge or contacts, and if they leave you’re screwed.
I’ll close with another spooky risk tale that’s currently making me go … hmm.
Where does everything come from to support our comfortable, affordable lifestyle?
That would be China, a country currently in the grip of an energy crisis.
The company that manufactures one of the tech brands we use every day is currently allocated one day’s electricity per week.
I’m not sure exactly what it will mean, and the possibilities would be a whole scary story in itself. Even if your business doesn’t literally buy things from China, you operate in a system built on cheap, reliable Chinese support on every level.
We’ve just been through two years of hell from a risk nobody really saw coming. Take nothing for granted, keep those antennae tuned and you’ll be in a much better position than the “it’s all good” people.
Here’s a book you need if you don’t have one already.
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