Technology has really transformed our personal and professional lives. In the 1950s, television emerged as the primary form of popular entertainment. In the 1960s, the transistor radio revitalized radio and made personal entertainment portable. In the 1970s, 8-track tapes began to appear in cars, soon to be replaced by cassettes, then by CDs, and today by iPods. Basic telephone service transformed business, and features such as voice mail, call waiting, call forwarding, and other technologies increased our dependence on the phone. Today, cell phones are everywhere, serving not just as communication devices but as cameras, video screens, calendars, watches, Web browsers, and more.
These are merely the most obvious examples of the ways in which technological progress has affected everything, including remodeling businesses.
But does progress in technology guarantee progress in your business when that technology is applied? Not always. For example, although technology increases the speed with which we can find and transfer information, it also reduces the amount of time we have to contemplate decisions and actions. And although we can do many things faster because of technology, the increased speed doesn't necessarily mean we can build more remodeling projects. Nor does it guarantee that we will build them any better, or that we will increase sales or improve margins. And technology doesn't automatically guarantee a better client experience or reduce our daily stress.
Technology is here to stay and will grow increasingly important to what we do. The key to getting the results we want using technology is “balance.” We must keep technology in check and constantly monitor its use to make sure it is making things better, not worse. As we are increasingly faced with decisions about whether to substitute technological solutions for more personal, “high-touch” approaches, it's important to consider the following questions:
1. Is the technological approach more effective or just more efficient? There's an important difference: The effectiveness of an approach speaks to the outcome; whereas its efficiency speaks to the process. You will get your check when you e-mail an invoice to a client, but if you deliver it in person, you get an opportunity to strengthen a relationship, answer questions, solicit feedback, and more.
2. Is using technology a way to avoid personal interaction? Sometimes personal interaction can be uncomfortable, and it's easy to bury our fear behind technology. These days, for example, it's commonplace to deal with almost everything by sending an e-mail message. In many cases, e-mail is faster, easier, and it gets the job done. But e-mail also masks emotion; there is no body language or facial expression from which to gather feedback. Making a phone call is often better for many types of communication but, when practical, personal interaction is much more subtle and will generally lead to a better outcome.
3. Is it better or just easier (or slicker) to use technology? I believe that people feed off other people's energy and ideas. The synergy this creates may be enhanced by technology, but it may also be stifled. For example, soliciting ideas from a group via e-mail may be faster and easier, but it's cumbersome if your goal is for people to build on one another's ideas. On the other hand, a teleconference enables people in remote locations to participate in a discussion from which they would otherwise be excluded. By asking this question about better vs. easier, you can ensure that technology serves your needs without interfering in essential processes.
If you are honest in your responses to these questions, you will make better judgments on how to approach the use of technology. Again, the key word is “balance.” If you can imagine a scale out of balance, then you can understand that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. By asking the right questions and by committing to controlling the impact of technology, you will see a better return.