A recent Wall Street Journal article” by Cristina Rogers “Say Goodbye to the Car Salesman” outlined how online selling has transformed the dynamic between the customer and traditional car salesman:
“A car salesman used to spend long days on his feet. Now he’s becoming like everyone else—stuck most days in a chair in front of a computer screen. Today, buyers call or walk into a showroom already armed with a car’s invoice price, competing dealer bids and discounts from the manufacturers, and can get updates on their cellphones while standing in the store. They can access online reviews of the salesperson and dealership.”
All this points to an inescapable trend in consumer behavior. Many customers value and prefer self-service channels to human interactions. In the B2C world, this has long been fairly evident. Think ATMs, eTickets, and online banking. In a more recent example, consider the Apple Genius Bar which has taken the pain out of customer support. Customers go online to schedule a service appointment at a time convenient for them. At the same time, they also outline their problems. Appointment times are scrupulously adhered to, so there is little wait. Apple technicians know what products the customer has before they show up, and they frequently have already researched solutions.
Research supports this. According to Forrester, “Across all demographics, channel usage rates are also quickly changing: we’ve seen a 12% rise in web self-service usage, a 24% rise in chat usage, and a 25% increase in community usage for customer service in the past three years.”
In contrast to the B2C customer experience, many B2B customers still experience “live” service channels for procurement. One question B2B companies should ask themselves: what is more important for our customers, a relationship or a satisfying user experience? Most people want a good experience when they buy or use something. They want low-friction transactions, and they want to accomplish them now. More and more customers are looking for better and smart self-service, and they don’t value the relationship as much as some might think.
What is it that makes self service so appealing?
- The efficiency of the interaction
- The satisfaction of being in control
- The ability to “time shift” the service experience to fit the customer’s schedule, not the provider’s
- Fear of high pressure upsell/cross-sell
- And maybe most frightening of all to corporate executives, the reduced importance of the “relationship” in comparison to the “experience
Rather than lamenting this loss of control, B2B retailers should embrace it. In our next blog post, we will outline the reasons why B2B retailers should embrace this trend and how they can create a user experience that makes customers excited by their products or services (and increase satisfaction and loyalty at the same time!).