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How does your business look to customers? ARE you still storing client contact information in a Rolodex—or worse—on 3″x4″ cards? Do you have a corporate-grade voice mail and call forwarding system? Or does your business sound more like a pizza joint where employees transfer calls by yelling across the room? How your business looks and sounds to clients and potential customers is often just as important as the products you sell or the services you provide. All businesses—whether it’s a small startup or a BE 100S firm with millions of dollars in revenues—want technology that can boost profits, provide better customer service, and increase employee efficiency. And they want it all without seriously denting the bottom line.
But better technology doesn’t have to mean costly upgrades and fancy gadgets. Simple improvements can go a long way, whether it’s retiring an outdated phone system, switching from dial-up to a high-speed Internet connection, or adding a wireless component to your Web connection options. The two companies in the next few pages show that a little investment can go a long way toward making technology work for you, instead of the other way around.
THE OLD SOFT SHOE
When done right, a simple telephone upgrade can make a world of difference to a small company, even making it seem much larger than it is. That’s what Krazy Kickz (www.krazykickz.com) of Durham, North Carolina, discovered. Krazy Kickz is an online sneaker emporium dedicated to sneaker collectors—those who would sooner exhibit their Air Jordans on a shelf than scuff them up on the asphalt.
Sam Robinson, 21, who co-founded the company with LaTesha Burroughs, 20, in 2001, says that although the Website did an excellent job of processing orders, problems arose when customers phoned in. With the old phones, a simple task like transferring a call sometimes meant giving out a personal cell phone number and having the customer make an extra call. Such inefficiency wasn’t good for a company that prides itself on providing a high level of customer service to its sneaker-savvy clientele. And if no one was available to answer the phones, the calls went to the partners’ home phones. Although Krazy Kickz posted revenues of $230,000 in 2003, Robinson says their antiquated phone system made the company seem as small as it actually was: five employees.
“We were in [class] a lot of the time, and we weren’t able to manage the phone calls, so they would go to our home machines,” says Burroughs. “It seemed very unprofessional, and we had some complaints because people would call and wonder if we were a legitimate company.” Callers wanted to hear an actual greeting from a real company, she adds, and they wanted their calls answered promptly.
So what do busy, young entrepreneurs do when they need to upgrade their company’s phone service? They do what everyone else does—they Googled. “We used Google to search for Internet phone companies. We looked at a few of them and compared rates and [features], and Angel.com was the best solution with