First up, it doesn’t matter what your preference is, business is moving online. Over half of first contact between customer and supplier now takes place on a website. That’s right – direct website contacts outnumber email, phone and everything else put together. And that is TODAY!
Complex requirements, complex products and complex processes slow things down and that is why the business to business market is a few years behind B2C, but it is a demographic certainty that business will be conducted mostly online within a few years.
Disruptive business models or not,
there are some basics
which you ignore at your peril
Sales: Influence at the point of purchase
Supermarkets have spent 50+ years telling us self-service is good. Online purchasing shifted order entry to the customer under the guise of convenience and re-enforcing the self-service myth. However, this took away the opportunity for sales. The customer is right there and wanting to buy: can there be a better moment to influence? Buy this, buy it from me and buy it now. Just think of the impact an ability to do that online has for your company.
Dialogue beats Search for product selection
Not many of us want our customers to be experts in the products we sell. But a feature of the self-service bandwagon is that the customer should be able to find exactly what they need. This is impossible. Step 1: work out what you need: Step 2: start to look. By having the dialogue to refine requirements you will recommend products that bring more value to the customer and result in a greater number of higher value sales.
Customer experience is competitive advantage
Easy, fast, accurate. Maybe even fun! It is well understood that customers will choose a good experience over a bad experience anyday. Pay proper attention to the small changes you can make that make the experience more positive. Not least, how much of the work are you asking the customer to do, and how much are you offering to serve them?
Bringing it all together
In case you haven’t got the message – I don’t rate self-service, particularly in B2B. It’s a bad idea for both sides. You, the vendor are the experts, AND therefore best placed to help the customer understand what they need and match the product that will create the most value – that beats search any day and will create a much better customer experience. Plus, at the point a customer wants to buy, what would possess you to leave them to their own devices and risk them going elsewhere?
So what’s the solution…
Well there is always more than one way to deal with a challenge. Ignore it – the choice of impending failures globally! Throw resources at it – a quick fix is the 'call me back' or 'live chat' button: costly and constrained by personnel, and generally leading to a lousy customer experience. Solve with technology – virtual agents work well for enquiries that occur thousands of times: hardly a personalised service.
The answer has to lie in better software that can deliver quality advice with a much reduced training overhead. Viola!