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Why a new age of commerce-related technologies is dawning

27th Sep 2015
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Yet another story about low levels of customer service has broken this month with the publication of Which?’s report naming Scottish Power as the company in the UK with the worst record in keeping its customers happy.

This is, of course, a familiar refrain and the members of the public questioned were keen to use toxic phrases such as “they were very rude”, “completely inflexible”, “dreadful customer service” and “blaming me for their own mistake”. One respondent even went as far as describing BT as “the worst company in the world”; not a phrase they will rush to append to their company masthead.

You don’t need to be an expert in PR to understand that these kinds of stories are seriously damaging and even the biggest firms in the world are not immune to the negative effects of the disgruntled customer. Clearly the companies languishing at the bottom of Which?’s list are aware of the basic good sense in keeping their customers onside. Indeed, whole teams within large businesses spend their working week obsessing about nothing else. However, I do wonder that the perpetual sense that customers are unhappy with the service they’re given may have something to do with ineffective use of the technology now prevalent across all marketplaces.

This may be particularly true in the world of commerce, where the link between product availability, means of purchase and then customer satisfaction (or otherwise) is particularly stark. In other words, if you are able to buy the product that you want at a time that is convenient and it’s of the quality you expect then you’re likely to be happy. If this goes wrong at any of these stages then you won’t be. Simple as that.

It’s no surprise then than much of the innovation in commerce technology over the better course of the past two decades has been focused on removing “friction” from the buying process. Whether we are talking about online ecommerce, or in-store, etc. – technology has been developed to empower the consumer to make choices and complete purchase activity in an unfettered manner.

As the web, and now mobile, become ubiquitous tools for the everyday buyer this initial automation phase made perfect sense, and was entirely necessary. However, I see a new phase of development in commerce-related technologies emerging. This new phase, in contrast to previous development, will seek to better connect the human touch points of both digital and in-store commerce experiences. And this is vital. In the Which? report, 53% said that friendly staff was the most persuasive factor in deciding customer satisfaction. Simply put, human touchpoints matter: a recent McKinsey report notes that only 20% of businesses rely solely on digital touchpoints to conduct their business – people connecting with people is still very critical in the revenue processes of both B2B and B2C firms around the globe.

Human touchpoints

When talking about the 'human touchpoints' in commerce, we can be talking about a number of use cases. For example, while ecommerce tools can automate product recommendations and of course checkout, the escalation process when a consumer has an issue either with the checkout process or with a received product, is less than ideal.

This is because many B2C models thrive on volume and thus have kept a somewhat anonymous approach to buyers (apart from simple profiles and purchase history for recommendations). And, that data was typically trapped in the commerce engine silo. So, when a human customer service agent tries to solve issues – he or she typically has insufficient data.

In addition, by failing to create a single-channel profile of the customer – many insights and opportunities are lost. But, if we can immediately aggregate the entire customer activity across the purchase journey, we can better understand how customers get from the early stages of product 'research' through to purchasing. This is especially important in B2B scenarios, where the process is a little more complex across channels. Understanding what actions a business buyer makes across channels is typically not tracked in a single system, such as a CRM platform. But if it were, marketers and sales organisations would be able to better optimise the lead-to-close process.

While these two phases seem at odds, they are in fact quite complementary.  In today’s highly competitive marketplace, customer experience is becoming the true differentiator in many industries – far more so than price or product variety. The businesses that provide the right balance between a 'frictionless' buying experience, with the added nuance of the 'personal human touch' have a better shot at succeeding in today’s economic atmosphere.

The good news is, that modern commerce, mobile, social and even CRM tools are becoming more flexible than ever – allowing for highly differentiated and integrated customer experience models. The data is easier to move between systems – creating an 'uber-view' of customer histories that can be used across the human interactions that occur in the marketing, sales/purchase, support phases of the customer journey, and beyond. Today, we truly have the ability to offer the best of both worlds to our customers: fast, simple purchase processes when they want it; or the consultative, high-touch relationship approach when it makes sense. 

While this is a new phase of commerce technology development, the core tenet remains the same: providing the best experiences for the customer. If this is achieved then companies can avoid the murky, lower reaches of the next, inevitable, survey of customer satisfaction.

Henning Ogberg is senior vice president and general manager of EMEA, at SugarCRM.

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