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Howard Tullman
Nautical vessels and companies both tend to collect barnacles that can harm performance. In the case of businesses, that often means websites that are impossible for consumers to navigate without getting annoyed – or service. Time to get your operation shipshape.

18-Apr-24 – One of the surest signs of spring – accompanied by the foolishly optimistic view that the bitter winds and cold Chicago weather are gone for the season – is the slow and colorful raising of the bridges and the return of the boats to their slips and buoys in the many harbors along Lake Michigan. For sailing veterans, these quiet harbors are akin to navigable neighborhoods occupied each summer by old friends, drinking buddies, and generations of kids who grew up onboard their families’ boats.

While a fair number of these sometime sailors spend plenty of nights sipping and sleeping on their vessels, many never bother to move their craft from the slips more than once or twice over the summer. But they do invest plenty of time and elbow grease spiffing up their vessels to be sure that they’re safe and secure and that they show well for the neighbors and for the throngs of inquisitive civilians passing by on the docks. It’s spring-cleaning time and done with a vengeance.

Swabbing the decks, waxing the wood, polishing the brass, and making sure that all the mechanicals and electronics are in good shape is an important part of the annual ritual. But not all the important business is visible because – equally critical – is making sure that the hull below the water line is clean, watertight, and free of barnacles and other obstructions that might otherwise create hydrodynamic drag and slow the ship.

Adobe Stock

Not too many of these folks are going to be competing, but keeping their boats shipshape is as much a matter of pride and tradition as it is about any concerns for optimizing speed or race prowess.

Just like boats, businesses, over time, develop their own barnacles and other obstacles to speed and efficiency. Now’s a very good time to look over your own ship, think about ablations that make sense, and ask yourself two critical questions:

1 Are you doing things in the right way for today; or are you still doing them the way they’ve always been done whether or not that makes sense or best serves the needs of your people, customers, vendors, and partners?

2 Are you doing costly or inefficient things that you no longer need to do – especially when your customers don’t notice or care about them?

One of my favorite examples is the old-line taxi companies who still haven’t gotten the message that Uber and Lyft have won the war. They’re toast but apparently no one has broken the news to them. It’s not clear to me who they think they’re serving – other than themselves – or why they’re hanging on when 100 percent of their drivers will tell you that they’d love the additional revenue and volume that would appear overnight if their vehicles were added to the ridesharing services’ menus, which many cities have done. From a single solution, ease of use, and simplicity standpoint, there are also millions of prospective customers who are just trying to get a lift (no pun intended) and could not care less which company’s driver shows up.

It’s been clear for years with regard to the pervasive power of platforms in virtually any area driven by new technologies that the end state will be one or two dominant players. It’s a winners-take-all world and players still trying to compete rather than concede and cooperate with the big guys will eventually be crushed and run out of business.

Someday soon, as Joni Mitchell said, the screen door is gonna slam and a big yellow taxi is gonna come and take them away.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

Other obvious examples of folks who just don’t get it are everywhere. I can’t begin to count the number of agencies, organizations, and companies who’ve turned their websites into digital torture chambers designed to repel customers rather than to assist them. They try to cram so much information into their sites so that their people don’t have to deal with the public that they end up making these tools useless and frustrating. Apparently, they don’t understand that for millions of digital users, their websites are the front doors to their businesses.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s too many poorly described choices, too few clear steps and clicks to reach a simple answer, too many dead-end paths and pages that take you nowhere, or simply poorly designed and thought-out ways to serve and respond to your visitors and customers questions and concerns. If I have to be a knowledgeable pro to know where to go on your site, you can bet that I’m going to go somewhere else.

And please don’t get me started on automated answering systems and voicemail jail. Maybe machine learning will eventually save us, but for the current eternity, in which we all get to wade through a chain of queries, it still appears that every single time you call any service organization you are required to step through the same ridiculous questions without any ability to bypass them in order to eventually reach – not a human being – but a further chatbot tormentor that will try to respond to your answers. Every company executive should be required – weekly – to attempt to navigate their firm’s inbound phone system to appreciate what a painful, wasteful, and frustrating exercise it can be.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

The bottom line is a simple suggestion for every business builder and manager. Take a walk around your place. Call the main number from outside. Check out your website.

See how your recycling program is actually working – separate trash cans or one big pile. Find out how returns and credits are being processed. You’ll be surprised, shocked, and saddened by how much you’ve got to re-learn about how your business actually does business. And then get to work – bagging the barnacles and clearing the deck.