Remember the days of waiting 5 minutes for AOL to dial up and connect to the server? (Yes, that eardrum-rattling dial tone is burned in my memory, too). Well, those days are long gone, replaced by super-fast internet connections and a technology industry that seems to be evolving just as quickly.

Of course, at that speed, change can seem overwhelming. Those of us who are creatures of habit tend to stick with what’s comfortable. What’s more, if the purpose of technological advances is to save time, automate manual processes, and provide immediate access to information, why does it sometimes feel like a burden instead of a benefit?

There is no denying that technology, if used effectively, can help you operate a more efficient smoke or vapor business. By using technology, here are four ways to streamline processes, save time, and boost revenue generation through technology—all of which you can do too.

Increased Efficiency
One of the most cost-effective ways a smoke or vapor shop can operate is to make their processes more efficient. When a business operates in an efficient manner, its employees have more time to dedicate to serving the customers, finding ways to provide better services, growing the business and finding ways to become more profitable.

Technology can play a large role in increasing efficiency in your business. Most industries in the modern business environment employ some form of automation or information system. Not surprisingly, the independent smoke shop still lags behind most. Harnessing that power of a informational system and using it to improve upon business processes is a great way to maximize efficiency.

The idea of technology increasing efficiency comes as no surprise. After all computers are fast, have capability of getting up to date information, data can be stored in one convenient place, and some types of automation can actually replace manpower.
Here’s how technology can increase efficiency in your business:

Increases Speed
Doing tasks by hand can be time consuming, and decades ago employees had to do things mostly by hand. Today, in the modern smoke shop, employees are still doing things by hand that computers could do for them…and do much quicker.

Not too many years ago, it was common for most functions within the independent smoke shop to be done by hand. Staff had to do things such as manually create documents and reports, manually record inventory and supplies, use correction tape to fix errors, carbon paper to make copies and then take on the painfully time consuming tasks of preparing typed up documents to either be mailed or filed. The only spell check available was the naked eye.

Today that’s all changed. While it’s true that staff members must still key in data or type up important correspondences, many of the associated processes can be done through computer wizards, stored in databases, run through spell and grammar checks, and no manual corrections need to be made. Copies can be simply run off for duplicates.

Customer transactions are much faster. Credit cards can be processed with a simple swipe and digital signature. No longer do employees have to manually take impressions of cards, sort through receipts and process the purchase; today computers can do all the work in a fraction of a time. As a result customer lines move more quickly and a better customer service experience can be had. This becomes especially true when it comes to providing a better experience for those customers that you serve. It is quite simply math – the more time you save, the more time you can spend with your customers.

The level of speed technology offers is an incredible asset when doing business.

Up-to-date Information
Employees working in today’s businesses have information right at their fingertips. This significantly increases efficiency and helps free up time for other tasks.

Whether a colleague or customer needs information, through a few clicks of a mouse and some keyed words, you can easily retrieve the most current information. This is valuable for both the customer experience and for managerial decision making.

Frees up Valuable Time
Efficiency also comes through the reduction of man-hours on tedious tasks. Through the use of technology, employees can focus on more important tasks, such as upselling and working with customers by helping them with their questions or concerns about the products they are interested in.

Improved Consistency
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you prepare to serve a customer. By utilizing approved needs analysis or planning software, you can create professional presentations that can be used with your customers. Once you have a presentation you’re comfortable with, save it and replicate. This allows you to be consistent in the delivery of your presentations and the structure of your meetings. Not only does this look professional, but it also aligns your customer with your brand, which ultimately leads to customer satisfaction. This will provide a better experience for your customer and generate recommendations and referrals for your business.

Greater Accessibility
One of the biggest time wasters in any industry is the inability to access information quickly. How often does a customer need you to provide them with some important information? Then you find yourself doing research just to provide them with that information? By using a system to access this information, you can provide that person with the requested information immediately. This reinforces your clients’ confidence that you are on top of your business. There are many online customer relationship management (CRM) resources available that provide instant access for your customers. There are many tools and resources that are widely available and customizable, which will enable you to become more efficient and provide a better experience for your customers. Using these tools will not only provide you greater accessibility, but it will keep you from wasting your valuable time and the time of others as well.

Enhanced Revenue Generation
There are many creative ways to use technology to identify sales or service. As mentioned previously, the key with technology is not just using it, but using it effectively. Take customer relationship management software (CRM). Depending on the amount and quality of data you collect from your customers, a CRM provides you with a wide range of reporting capabilities and data for customer loyalty programs, follow up marketing programs and direct sales opportunites. For example, if you have entered and maintained your customer’s account or purchasing information, whether through integration with another tool or manual entry, you can run reports to identify cross-selling opportunities with those same customers. These reports could be as simple as identifying clients with additional needs. You could even run more refined reports to return service opportunities, sales opportunities, or just identify customers that you haven’t spoken with in some time.

One thing to keep in mind: the key to making technology work for you is to take the time to learn these tools, rather than simply rushing into using them with only a fraction of the optimum functionality. There is a vast amount of recorded and live training out there. Whether you reach out to a trusted advisor, or you leverage system-specific training from the vendor; make sure you make the most of the resources that are typically offered for free.

As technology continues to grow and come out with new capabilities, a business must work to continually explore new opportunities. With new technology comes the possibility for enhanced levels of service, expanded product lines or improvement of current product lines.

Think in terms of home entertainment, companies used to produce VCRs, then moved to DVDs and now are ventured into HDVD and Blu-Ray. Society has seen LPs to cassettes and CDs to MP3s and iPods that can interact with the Internet for consumer convenience and ease.

As technology progresses, smoke and vapor shops can use it to identify new consumer needs. Then they can make an effort to sell those ideas for new opportunistic growth.

Companies that recognize the value of technology are going to find themselves enjoying a competitive advantage over those companies that choose to ignore the possibilities technology offers.

The need of every smoke and vapor can vary greatly, depending on the size of your market, the growth of your business, or the number of customers you serve. To help with this evaluation, it is wise to seek the aid of an industry consultant to evaluate your business and determine those technological initiatives that you could employee. Using a consultant allows them to use their experiences working with a multitude of different jewelry stores. These experiences help them shape their recommendations by utilizing those best practices of different businesses.

Higher efficiency, experiencing growth and exploring new opportunities are all ways for a business to thrive and remain competitive. Our industry has become very complex and very competitive. Implementing technology into your business is a decision that you will face every day. The decision is yours and that decision will shape the future of your business. SSA