Features from Meantime IT

Time for change

It’s time to look at your business systems and ensure they can keep pace with technology. Fenner Pearson, managing director of Meantime IT, explains how.

The last couple of years have seen a huge shift in the way businesses operate. While the customer has always been right in theory, the reality has been somewhat different and businesses – or the disreputable ones at least – have been able to hide behind a wall of corporate jargon and PR guff.

Now, however, the customer has a voice – and it’s loud. Loud enough to travel around the world in a matter of seconds, thanks to the instant nature of social media and the arrival of the digital age. Customers no longer believe what they’re told through carefully crafted press releases and marketing messages, because they can log onto any number of web sites and find out exactly what’s been said about the company they’re about to do business with.

So the way we do business has changed. It’s become more transparent, and there’s more of a dialogue between businesses and their customers, rather than a one-way message. And with that change have come new expectations. Just as a customer fires off an angry email to a manager and expects a reply within the hour, the speeding up of communications brought about by the digital revolution means that whatever they want, they want it now.

If your business is built on an antiquated system of chitties filed in triplicate, spreadsheets and a paper trail so long it would lead back to the Amazon rainforest it came from, you’re in as much trouble as the dinosaurs and may soon be just as extinct.

Now is the time to accept that technology must be at the forefront of any serious organisation, invest wisely and futureproof your business.

Make it pay

Whether you’re a high-stree shop, beauty therapist or marketing consultant, the days of paying by cheque are well and truly over. Banking systems have finally caught up with technology, and payments made by debit card or online banking are usually debited and credited immediately rather than the three days it took until very recently. With an estimated one billion people accessing their accounts online by 2015, banking processes are becoming ever more sophisticated.

With a well-designed integrated business system, the simple act of making or receiving a payment can automate everything from generating a receipt to processing a VAT return. Rather than filling out forms in triplicate (customer, accounts, warehouse) then inputting everything into a spreadsheet to be reconciled with a bank statement when it comes through the post, the whole lot can be done in seconds, and with an inbuilt reporting system that will give you an exact overview of your finances any time of the day or night.

Of course, if you sell over the internet there are regulations to consider – find out more about those in our Guide to e-commerce.

Pay your way

The money’s coming in quickly enough, so you need to make sure it’s getting to the people who make your business what it is – your staff. The days of ‘job for life’ and regular incremental pay rises are all but gone, and company hierarchy is becoming increasingly indiscriminate. Part-timers, flexi-timers, short-term contracts, long-term contracts, benefits, penalties, overtime, expenses – the range of possibilities for the wages department to deal with can be endless.

Introducing a system that stores pay rates, tax rates, contract details – everything you need to work out what you owe your staff – and then automatically generates what they’re owed with the simple exercise of inputing the number of hours they’ve worked can slash administration times from days to hours, as well as automatically generating payments, accounting information and reports as and when they’re required.

Streamline your stock control

If you’re selling a product, there’s simply no need to ever run out of stock (unreliable suppliers and natural disasters notwithstanding). A properly designed stock control system will trigger the ordering of new supplies as soon as it recognises you’re running low and ensure your customers will never be disappointed. With a manual system, an order can be taken for five items and assurances given, but in the time it’s taken to send the order to the warehouse, someone else has got there before you and the new stock won’t be there for days; cue disgruntled customers and lots of complaints. With a simple but clever ordering and stock control system, ordering an item not only automatically triggers its despatch, but also orders a replacement, generates a delivery note and invoice, and even alerts you if the money doesn’t come in when it should.

And, again, there’s that all-important reporting system allowing you to check what stock you’ve got, where it is, when more’s due and how much money is owing or owed within seconds, putting an end to the all-night stock takes (and costly overtime payments that go with them).

Buck up your booking systems

If your business or organisation relies on the smooth and speedy processing of bookings, whether they’re for holidays, clinic appointments, haircuts or concert tickets, ensuring you get the details right is essential. Double booking a hair appointment, failing to send tickets for a gig on time, forgetting to add the hire car to the holiday booking or having a patient turn up for an appointment that you have no record off are all easy ways to ensure that your customer will never come back.

Booking systems which automatically trigger every stage of the lifecycle of your service or product can ensure this doesn’t happen. Systems can be created which will create and confirm bookings, then lie dormant until further action needs to be taken – for example, sending an SMS reminder of a hair appointment, triggering an order to a car hire company to have the vehicle at the airport or ordering fresh flowers for a private hospital room in preparation for a patient’s stay. It can all be done automatically, as can reminders for follow-up courtesy calls or repeat appointments.

These are just a few examples of how embracing technology can drive your business forward, keep your customers coming back and ensure they’re talking about you for all the right reasons. Technology is not going away - it’s only going to become more sophisticated. And if your business isn’t doing the same, your customers will find one that is.

Download this guide as a pdf