Putting customers back in the equation
The internet has dramatically advanced the ways business can deliver products and services, and meet customer needs. However, while e-business has succeeded at leveraging technology to enhance business productivity, it has done little to enfranchise customers. Countless web sites that aim to provide a seamless shopping experience simply are not designed for the needs of the user. Customers needing support often have to abandon their shopping carts to get their questions answered. Many end up turning to the phone to get the information they need, or they just give up. Most e-businesses lack the human touch.
Customer needs will continue to change as technology plays a greater role in our lives. To be successful in the future, businesses will have to add the customer viewpoint into the equation, and seek to satisfy unmet customer needs. Rather than concentrating on e-business, companies will need to reorganize as c-businesses, orienting their operations around customer need sets across all channels and touch points, from the perspective of all products and services, and for each customer group, whether on the consumer level, small businesses, or large enterprises.
Six Drivers of Change in eCommerce
Let’s examine these emerging customer need sets, the drivers of change, and how certain businesses are prospering in the new c-business age.
- Information overload. The Web has unleashed a plethora of information. The result of this easy access to information is that people are seeking knowledge in context. Presenting data in the context of the customer’s needs transforms it and makes it far more valuable. The financial services company USAA doesn’t inundate its clients with sales pitches and junk mail. It takes a highly targeted marketing approach based on major events in them customers’ lives. When you’re about to buy a house, have a baby, or send a child off to college, USAA will contact you with information about products and services tailored for these needs.
- More choices. Today, there is a wider variety of goods and services than ever before. This surfeit of choices is leading people to demand more personalized service and customized goods. Look at cars. Henry Ford told his customers they could get a Model T “in any color you want, as long as it’s black.” The computer industry long took the same approach-only this time with beige. Apple changed the landscape with its iMac, providing consumers with true choice. But Mac enthusiasts still have a hard time getting options they want built right into their systems. Dell, on the other hand, customizes virtually every PC it sells to its customers’ specifications. As advances in technology and manufacturing make it easier for firms to tailor their offerings, customers will increasingly expect personalized service.
- Automation. It has become possible for businesses to automate nearly every aspect of the customer interaction. This increase in automation leaves most of us with a yen for the human touch. But for corporations to deliver quality, human scale service, customers will need to make concessions in terms of privacy. Smart e-businesses will prove to their customers that these sacrifices will be worth it. Already, enterprises with good “corporate memory” are succeeding. Consider FedEx, which provides a reassuring presence by putting kiosks in the offices of their best customers. FedEx also provides real value through its Web site by letting customers track deliveries.
- Pervasiveness. The pervasiveness of information and services is another driver of change. Having the capability to get whatever you want, whenever you want it is driving a need for control and integration. For example, we can get email on wireless handhelds, and order groceries online. However, is anybody helping people remember what’s supposed to be on their grocery shopping list? Webvan has made inroads in this area, but they still must overcome entrenched shopping habits. As these platforms develop, they provide resources essential for national growth and reduce the market inefficiencies that slow the pace of development.
- New pricing models. A heightened awareness of value is the direct result of new pricing models and pressures. Customers don’t necessarily look for the best prices, but they do look for value. In the airline industry declines in service and fluid pricing models have made it difficult for people to determine what is and what isn’t a good deal. Companies that can clearly define their value proposition are having more success in meeting customer expectations and needs.
- New entrants in the marketplace. New entrants can now establish themselves in the marketplace with relative ease. Barriers to entry are so much lower now that business can expand into new sectors virtually overnight. For customers, this leads to increased choices, but it also raises questions of trust. Customers look for clues that they can rely on their provider, which is why companies need to build trust through their online and offline presences.
Determine How You Can Deliver Better Attention, Choice, and Value in E-commerce
E-business may have radically changed the ways companies and people buy goods and services, but the essential elements of the buyer/seller equation are timeless. Customers want personal attention, they want choice, and they want good value. Solving the marketer’s dilemma will not be easy.