Tuesday, 20 October 2015

What do you do with customers who aren't digital?

A news article today explained that "Over 12 million people, and a million small businesses in the UK do not have the skills to prosper in the digital era".  This is worrying on so many levels:

  1. how can we be sure our current and future employees understand how to engage online?
  2. how do we reach the non-digital customers, particularly if our products and services are essentially internet-based?
  3. what training can we provide, to the general public, to help them reach a higher level of engagement and comfort with digital?
  4. what can we do, as managers, within our own organisations, to better equip our teams, our peers and those further up the food-chain so that when we discuss a digital marketing campaign, a plan to manage knowledge online or engaging with our stakeholders through social media, they don't just smile, say 'there there' and mark you down as criminally insane?
The digital divide is one that affects every area of society, as I discuss in Making Social Technologies Work, there are large parts of the world getting further and further behind as their societies persist with slow internet connections, a slow uptake of connected technology (be it PCs, laptops or mobile) and, very importantly, as businesses continue to ignore the potential benefits of embracing Social Technologies.

“Laptop Against World Map” by nattavut (Freedigitalphotos.net)
Access to the internet, the World Wide Web, should not be considered a 'human right' enforceable by law... it is access to impartial information that should be considered that - however it is delivered.  But when those connected to the web benefit from cheaper products and services, greater access to information, which includes impartial information, and when they are able to create their own businesses at near-zero cost, or meet new like-minded people or watch fluffy kittens falling off a shelf (which makes them feel good for a short time), the importance of the digital divide becomes more apparent.

It is not in itself that some people have greater access than others where the problem lies, but that the benefits grow exponentially for those connected, and those who are not fall further behind.  In the same way that someone learning to read at the age of 20 will fall significantly behind someone who started learning at 5 years of age, so are the socio-economic benefits to the metaphoric 5-year-old hugely increased by starting early.

The solution, of course, is education.  Educate governments to open access. Educate businesses of the benefits of embracing the web, and social technologies, for marketing, knowledge management, stakeholder engagement, research, new product development. Educate employees how they should engage with social technologies. Educate the population of the benefits of doing everything online, from buying products to paying their taxes, from keeping in touch with family abroad to meeting new people.

The education usually needs to start at the top.  Politicians. Civil servants.  C-level executives in large organisations.