Food for thought this week is the question of how much consumer preferences for purchasing products influence business approaches.
By this I mean, currently, in the consumer technology world the focus is on zero-contact purchases, you go to a company’s website, insert your preferences and requirements, and are shipped a product or given a contract. Whilst some people still prefer to go into shops, many others prefer to purchase a product without any interference. When was the last time you bought a phone in person? Or did you go to a website, click some buttons, and complete the purchase there and then?
What I am describing has become (via ecommerce platforms) the typical customer experience for consumers on multiple platforms. People do the research, they know what they want, and all they want from a seller is to provide the service as quickly as possible, with a robust return or free trial period in case it doesn’t suit the task or is faulty.
Now the big question is, will this trend make its way further into the business market, and how does the market handle the selling of complex tools in a quick and easy manner.
I spoke briefly to my colleague Patrick Watson, Senior Research Analyst here at Cavell who looks more in depth at the UCaaS and Collaboration markets. He said that this is already the case for collab, UC and many other software platforms that companies are buying. The user has a need and fills it as quickly and as painlessly as they can. He predicts this trend will only accelerate, and that companies need to consider their extended sales journey and how intuitive or consumer it feels. Including the use of consumer tools like chatbots to ensure that the sales process is as contact-free as possible.
An important component of this, however, is not to remove the salesperson from the equation, but to make the salesperson more aware and more information enabled. When a salesperson is engaged they should have knowledge directly to hand about the issues that someone has run into, how far along the purchasing journey they are, and any other times they have visited the website or other services they have purchased.
However, there are big questions as to whether this trend can push beyond software-only solutions, into hardware, or larger contracts that require more configuration, like for example network technology. I would argue that it will.
We are seeing more and more of a focus on smart-configuring, zero-touch deployments and machine learning in networks. Recent acquisitions of machine learning companies by prominent networking and telecoms vendors underscore this. The goal of the future is to build networks that create, map, and heal themselves. In this context I might go to a website, insert my requirements and receive the boxes on site that then self-configure and after that I might get involved with sales and work to fine tune the configuration, with a designated return period.
This brings us back to the opening question if we have the capabilities to build smart systems that can auto-configure on arrival. If we can alleviate many of the deployment pains, allowing customers to buy with confidence and knowing they can return software/hardware that does not work. Then these habits that are now becoming ingrained in consumers, will naturally enter the business space as well.
The thing about this trend that is alarming is that it will be silent. The only indicator that customers are choosing zero-touch options over others is sales moving from a company that does not offer easy customer journey’s to ones that do. Given the other factor’s that can also cause sales and churn, it will be hard to put a specific marker on this change. The only real way to know if you are losing customers or not picking up new ones is to ask and getting answers from customers with this mindset will also be hard.
So, the answer for everyone may just be the same as it always has, make the customer journey as smooth as possible. If you do this and add automation where appropriate, then you should be able to stay ahead of this trend.