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Published 25 June 2012 06:11, Updated 28 June 2012 04:16
Looking at this year’s BRW Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, most finalists were in the e-commerce space.
Being a judge of the award was a great experience and incredibly revealing, demonstrating the great advances some businesses have made in automating their products or services with minimal need for the human touch.
Last year’s awards were not too dissimilar with both the 2011 and 2012 winners being in the e-commerce and information technology space.
We have all experienced frustration with the speed of accessing services (just ring any standard telco) to get the gist.
But the big question is the trade-off that the customer values between speed and person-to-person customer service.
We have a lot of clients in the property and real estate segment and, while the customer enjoys the speed of looking and searching for potential property on the internet, they very rarely buy sites unseen and without a conversation with a human being representing the owners of the property.
So why aren’t there more entrepreneurs who deal with personal contact for the products and services that they mean to sell?
The answer is, because time is the newest commodity and the general consumer has worked out how to monetise that time, and the opportunity cost that lost time can represent.
It is no secret that retailers are under strong threat from e-commerce sales where a pair of fashionable shoes can be purchased online and delivered three days later with a full money-back guarantee for half the price that the retailer is selling the same pair of shoes for (as if they haven’t got enough to worry about).
What is it that makes the shopper walk into the retailer, try on a pair of shoes but not buy them knowing that they can go home, get online and complete the transaction in about five minutes at a cheaper price?
The devil here is the standardisation of that product, that there is no point of difference and there is no value placed by the shopper on the customer service they received from the retailer.
It’s just standard economics and it’s price driven. So for those who want to survive in the new age of customer orientation, there naturally has to be a blend of both.
As a great client said to me recently, “It’s impossible to sell a secret”. Great businesses can’t simply rely on e-commerce solutions or advancements to sustain their sales targets.
Their shot at differentiation can come from the experience that is created to the customer by doing business with a brand.
The relationship that exists, the personal care and attention to the varying wants of the customer, the ability to properly assess and solve the customer’s needs and fit their wants all have to be continually worked on to sustain any business.
In our business of accounting, IT and e-commerce have been with us for the past 20 or so years.
As a means of attracting customers, most modern firms have a marketing emphasis on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and You Tube but are they really doing anything to attract and retain customers that a service business desires?
It would be a fundamentally flawed philosophy that attraction and retention can be solved simply by that type of hub.
This is where the traditional values of customer service can really still be just as potent as what they were before the introduction of IT and e-commerce.
After all, how can a computer really listen to its client, provide flexible advice, given the different risk profiles that exist between investors, or even jump in the trenches with its customer when things get difficult for them?
For all of these reasons, remember
that while IT and e-commerce is a necessary part of any professional services firm, everyone is doing that but not everyone is still focusing on customer service.
And when the customer comes to having to choose, they are going to want a perfect balance of both.
Anthony Bell is the CEO of Bell Partners.
Next week: Freelancer.com founder Matt Barrie