Good Business Practices – You have to be More than a Geek

By on May 11, 2012

More than a geekA friend of mine was looking at online guitar lessons for her husband’s birthday. Janine is a serious geek with a career in computers that involves over a decade and budgets in the millions. She is also a serious shopper, having learned hand-in-hand with her mother as they ran from store to store. She told me about the process she took to select the right online option, and I realized that it was a powerful learning lesson for any entrepreneur with an online portal.

There were three options that looked promising. Janine decided to evaluate their knowledge of technical issues and their knowledge of guitar equipment. She called all three at about 9 am. One had an answering service that took the message and said someone would get back to her. The second was answered by someone in the group. When Janine asked the question: “Do your lessons work on an iPad, and is everything on your website HTML5 compatible or does some of your site require Flash?” the woman who answered the phone didn’t know. It was obvious that she asked others in the room if any of them knew, and no one did. They too said they would call back with the answer.

Someone Who Gets It

When she called the third site, one of the owners picked up the phone. He was able to answer her question immediately and then they continued to talk. His explanation of their approach to lessons was logical and inviting – they had fourteen different teachers, with different teaching styles, for beginning guitar. Finally, they had a half-hour discussion about amps and the owner was very knowledgeable.

Now here’s the interesting thing – Janine chose to word her initial question so that only a fairly competent geek would be able to understand and answer it. She wanted to make sure that the site’s owners had the technical knowledge at their fingertips to address any problems. So her question was actually a geek-to-geek test of technical capability.

The second goal was to evaluate customer responsiveness. She called at 9 a.m. on a weekday. How long did it take for them to get back to her with the answer? A well-run and customer-focused business would have called back right away when she left a message with the question, even if they couldn’t answer it immediately.

Her final goal was to investigate each site’s industry knowledge. She was prepared with questions about the lessons and types of teachers if they could answer her first question. She also planned a discussion of amps – an area she knew fairly well since she researched the amp her husband recently purchased with the same level of intensity.

Who do You Think Won Out?

As you might guess, she ended up choosing the site with the responsive and knowledgeable owner. As a final test she asked him about one of the competing sites. His response was that they were a good option. The only negative he’d heard was that there was some inconsistency of recording quality among the instructors. He then mentioned that they did all their lesson recordings in their own studio to keep quality consistent.

What was Janine testing with that question? One estimate of professionalism is how you talk about your competition. If he had slammed the other site she would have been much less likely to hire them. Instead he handled the question well, mentioning the only negative she had seen when she read the site’s online reviews. (Yes, that is a part of her due diligence for anything she buys!) She appreciated how he turned that minor criticism into an opportunity to discuss his company’s approach to recording.

Well, the company that met her geek requirements and demonstrated other good business behavior was the one she picked. It helped that it has a 7-day free trial and offers a 60-day money-back guarantee.

Good business practices are critical for any entrepreneur, whether online or in person. But if your business depends on online capability, make sure your geek cred is as solid as the business itself. Otherwise, you’ll lose Janine and others like her as customers.

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Matthew Toren

About Matthew Toren

Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley). He's based in Vancouver, B.C.