Observation Deck

Leveraging The 'Net

Boosting efficiency via online tools, services.

The number of online services, resources and options that can make doing business in our industry easier and much more efficient seem to be growing exponentially. Yet, we still see providers who continue to shy away from these valuable business solutions. In our challenging business environment, it is not only practical to take full advantage of available online tools, it is essential to leverage their full value to maximize efficiency for ourselvesand our employees.

Use the Web as your showroom

Consumers of all ages are becoming more tech savvy. A trip to a big box store or even a small boutique reveals how integrated technology has become to on-fl oor merchandising and how offering consumers the ability to go online while in a retail environment can be a big draw. The mobility industry is no different. By offering computer access to consumers on your showroom floor, you are equipping them with a powerful, interactive merchandising tool that can put you ahead of your competition. Providers should establish websites that are easy to navigate and informative while displaying all available products and services. Each page of the site should further their branding. Better yet, most manufactures can provide tools to help you accomplish this goal.

By networking seamlessly with your manufacturers’ and suppliers’ websites you can give your customers a unique, rewarding self-service experience that allows them to learn about your company and the products you offer at their own speed and on their own terms. This lets you maximize your staff’s time on your sales fl oor, essentially allowing you to do more with less. But beyond that you are also connecting your customers directly to an exceptional marketing tool. By utilizing every screen to convey your branding message and seamlessly networking with available industry and product resources, you are conveying that you are a modern mobility expert. This instills a sense of confidence in your clients that they are in the right place.

The use of a retail kiosk with web access is a very effective means of drawing the customer into actively shopping instead of simply browsing. Introducing undecided customers to your website in your store and giving them a web address that features the same in-store features means that they can take your showroom home with them for further contemplation.

Use available manufacturer services to their full potential

Most manufacturers provide a wealth of B2B services to help you maximize efficiency and succeed. Online order generation is paramount among these. By placing your product orders online you can benefit from short lead times, simplified billing and better management of inventory – all helping you provide the most efficient service to customers. Online order placement helps you maximize your personnel and the time they spend placing, updating and tracking orders. It also makes aftermarket accessories and parts orders just as easy.

Most manufacturers offer a full range of free online service resources. Troubleshooting tools like service instructions, schematics and full illustrated parts breakdown manuals are now all available online often in conjunction with live support. In the vast majority of technical service situations, using these tools is faster and more efficient than phone-based solutions. All service personnel should have direct access to these materials in their designated work area.

Most manufacturers offer live chat support for a selection of operational areas. Find out the chat supported services your manufacturers provide and educate members of your staff about the enhanced functionality they can provide in their areas of responsibilities. They can be used seamlessly when speaking with a customer to provide instant accurate information saving the time to research every question by phone or by browsing through a list of topics on a website or in a manual. This helps build your reputation for superior service and further enhances your image as a mobility expert. Never underestimate the value of having requested information at your fingertips. When your team masters the use of online tools not only does their work load become more manageable, but their confidence grows as well. Consider equipping your staff with wireless devices such as smartphones so they can access these tools both onsite, in the field, or even from home.

Comprehensive selections of educational and training tools are available online from manufacturers and industry experts via webinars and archived podcasts. You can combine these with your own training materials, such as PowerPoint presentations, to educate your staff affordably and effectively. It also streamlines time spent on training as online education can be accomplished on your staff’s own time or during downtime at your location.

Multitudes of online forums are also available to supplement educational opportunities and keep you and your staff up to date and plugged in to the industry and the disability community at large. They can provide an amazing level of insight and serve as great sounding boards and brain storming resources.

Reap the benefits of going paperless

Utilizing online resources greatly reduces the amount of paper records your company must handle, file and dispose of. And, there are more benefits to this than the initial savings you realize in general office supplies,such as staples and printer ink, as well as postage and shipping charges.

When you use electronic files and records you are building an accurate library of important documents that are available to your team regardless of scheduling and staffing. A central electronic filing system connects all segments of your company’s operations, making it easy to create at-a-glance snapshots of a typical fiscal quarter, month workweek or workday giving you an excellent opportunity to identify trends and enlighten you on areas where you can improve efficiency.

Electronic files minimize storage space requirements and can help you make the most out of your storefront and office space. A bank of filing cabinets or a bulky office desk can be eliminated helping you develop a better planogram to maximize your floor space for retail sales. Electronic files also protect customer confidentiality and can help greatly in the event of an audit of your business.

The benefits of leveraging online tools and resources are numerous and extremely cost effective. In a business climate that demands new ways of finding and implementing efficient operational policies, online initiatives are an exceptional place to start. With minimal investment and training your company can easily take full advantage of the limitless online opportunities that abound.

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Kirsten DeLay is the chair of Medtrade’s Blue Ribbon Task Force and the executive VP of sales management & operational planning for Pride Mobility Products Corp., Exeter, Pa. Kirsten can be reached via e-mail at kdelay@pridemobility. com or by calling (800) 800-8586.

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