Fifteen years ago, my husband Bernard and I started ICS+ with two laptops on a makeshift table in the garage in the heat of the Texas summer. We grew out of the garage (thankfully!) and into a six-person company devoted to helping other businesses get the most out of their technology. Our focus has always been on delivering the best possible service to every one of our customers, despite tackling more than 100 client engagements each year with a team of only a half-dozen. It’s a problem we’ve been grateful to have.
Last year, of course, was different. Like every other small business, COVID-19 took us into uncharted waters. There were moments when Bernard and I weren’t quite sure how we were going to steer the business through it all. But as we navigated the challenges of keeping our business afloat while prioritizing the health and safety of our team and customers, a new opportunity emerged. Our experience designing and programming audiovisual systems (a/v), heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC), and other building systems wasn’t just about giving our clients the latest and greatest in office tech. We had the chance to help keep people safe as they returned to the workplace.
Connecting to customer service over distance
Small businesses all over the world spent much of 2020 facing untold challenges. One of the biggest was what’s sometimes called customer service engagement: finding new ways to stay connected to customers when we couldn’t do business as usual, in person, and face-to-face. As our hometown of Austin, Texas progressed through various states of lockdown and re-opening, ICS+ tried to stay focused on the essentials. It was essential we kept paying our employees, kept helping our customers with their businesses, and kept everyone safe.
Turns out our experience … gave ICS+ something of a perspective on rethinking what the workplace should look like.
The phrase “social distancing” quickly became a part of everyone’s vocabulary. While reconfiguring workplaces to keep people six feet apart is a good place to start, office safety goes beyond social distancing. Things like sensor-activated lights, no-touch conference room screens, and automated meeting room timers suddenly weren’t just bells and whistles that made offices feel futuristic. Those became workplace safety features, helping slow the spread of COVID, and other viruses by eliminating common surfaces touched by dozens of people throughout a typical day. Turns out our experience designing and programming controls for these systems gave ICS+ something of a perspective on rethinking what the workplace should look like.
For years now, our clients have been reducing their carbon footprint and keeping travel costs down through video conferencing. But, the value of remote collaboration took on a whole new meaning when everyday activities like getting on a plane, staying in a hotel, or just gathering as a group in an enclosed conference room became unsafe. Fortunately, we were already facilitating technology that makes remote collaboration and communication possible. In 2020, it became valuable in another important way.
The world is still navigating through the pandemic and looking towards a new normal. We feel so fortunate ICS+’s expertise with automation can play a part in helping other businesses rethink where and how their employees can do their best work.
How ICS+ helps customers use technology
All of us at ICS+ learned a lot from helping our clients leverage technology to get through the pandemic. Bernard and I sat down to reflect on our experiences from last year, and share some tips on how any business can get the most out of its tech. Here’s what’s top of mind for us right now:
- Know what problems you’re trying to fix. Gather information so you can hone in on the true issue you’re having. Maybe you have eight customer service cases open, but they actually all stem from a single issue on your end. We try to help customers identify that core issue to pinpoint which tools can help resolve it.
- Remember that even over distance, there’s a real human being on the other side of what you’re doing. Technology is great and enables so much, but at the end of the day, what everybody is looking for is human interaction. For us, that might mean paying extra attention to how we design our touch panel interfaces. We make sure our customers can use their technology even when things get hard. That’s even more important now than we thought it was pre-pandemic.
- Everybody’s using multiple channels of communication right now. We used to think that maybe millennials like to communicate this way, and baby boomers prefer this other way, and so you’d break down who prefers phone versus email or text. But we’ve learned we need to be able to ingest data from all three channels, combine it to see the full story, then stay nimble and flexible when it comes to how we communicate. With so many people working remote, everyone’s using more of a mix of different channels than ever before.
- Don’t throw too many things at your employees. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and as we’ve heard, a good rule of thumb is 75% is the new 100% now. ICS+ is all about giving customers the new technology they want, but without pushing it so far that it’s not stable and dependable for everyday use. You might be tempted to bring a great new product or tool into your business operations, but ask yourself first if you can really integrate it right now. Be careful not to put too many new things in front of your team while they’re already dealing with so much else.
How Salesforce helps ICS+ service their customers
One of the technologies that help us do more for our customers is Salesforce. We’ve gone so deeply into our customer relationship management platform (CRM) over the years because it helps us realize business efficiencies that really make a difference.
Having … a single source of truth for the whole business, while maintaining everything behind the scenes, is huge for a small business like ICS+.
In a nutshell, Salesforce lets us spend less time wrangling information and details and more time serving customers and innovating. It’s made a difference — especially over the past year — in fostering human connection. Frankly, without Service Cloud managing all of the schedule changes and other constantly moving logistics, COVID would have killed our business.
Having a tool in place to give us a single source of truth for the whole business, while maintaining everything behind the scenes, is huge for a small business like ICS+. Being able to then integrate that with Quip made it possible to work remotely with our clients in real time.
I keep coming back to something I once heard the author Glennon Doyle say in an interview. The root of the word “crisis” means “to sift.” So when we have a crisis, we sift away all of the things that aren’t important, leaving only what’s worth holding onto. For ICS+ that’s meant taking care of our customers, team, and family. That’s really what’s getting us through this time, and enabling us to look ahead to helping everyone return safely to their offices, whether that’s in 2021, 2022, or beyond.
Salesforce helps you find more customers, win their business, and keep them happy so you can succeed. Learn more about our small business CRM solutions by following us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
For more business and leadership inspiration, check out our entire Leading Through Change series.