This piece was originally published in May’s edition of Dealer Support.
We explore how dealers can fully adapt to the shift towards e-commerce whilst maintaining close customer relationships
It has become an inevitability that any reseller wanting to thrive in the current climate will end up relying more and more heavily on technology. While cold and warm-calling are still the basis of a lot of business communication in this industry, many are adding e-commerce to the mix for those customers who would prefer a swift, wordless exchange online to a phone call. The shift to an increased online presence can be a challenging one, especially if it leads to an unforeseen change in the way a company views and markets itself. Nevertheless, it’s time to address the question of how dealers can not only create additional value from online orders but also ensure their relationships with customers don’t suffer in the process of evolving.
The first point for dealers to remember is that customers they don’t directly speak to are as valuable as those who call or visit. Last month we analysed ways in which positive relationships with clients can be maintained – these points require a little alteration when discussing e-commerce, but, ultimately, the same level of care is required. As with any other kind of ordering, it is beneficial to implement after-sales care following an online order – even if that’s via e-mail or, for example, by placing a phone call to clarify whether the customer was satisfied with their website experience. This way any complaints – or praise – that may not otherwise be communicated can be aired. A ‘How did we do?’ type online questionnaire to show that you care about your quality of service is also an excellent idea, and something which could also work as a Twitter poll or wider LinkedIn conversation.
Improving the experience for the customer also extends to ensuring that the use of a dealer’s website is a pleasant experience. Any business launching an e-commerce platform needs to ensure it has the resources to do so properly, with tools that work consistently. Investing in technology that’s reliable and simple to use, with a search function, high-resolution images and clear categorisation, improves the entire experience and will encourage return business. A customer who dislikes the website is unlikely to attempt the same order over the phone – in fact, they’re much more likely to abandon the dealer altogether. A blog which runs alongside the e-shop and outlines ways to use the products a dealer is selling can add enormous value, too.
An additional benefit of selling online is the opportunity to upsell in a way that is less blatant and more subliminal than attempting it over the phone. It’s common for businesses to use an algorithm that shows ‘People who bought this product also bought…’ options on the same page, which act as a gentle reminder that there are almost always ways to further improve the customer’s buying choice with add-ons. Depending on the platform used it may be the case that, rather than using an algorithm, the dealer can specifically choose which additional products show up, potentially leading the customer to make smarter choices that also lead to higher margins.
Dealers should utilise their other online tools to boost the value of whatever e-commerce platform they have. Targeted e-mail campaigns can be effective in ensuring a business remains on its customer’s radar, particularly if they take the trouble to send something more substantial than a generic template. Allowing website members to ‘level up’ their membership and earn points or rewards also encourages online ordering, and social media certainly shouldn’t be overlooked – in fact, there’s no reason that a large portion of Twitter and LinkedIn posts can’t be focused on promoting website content and offers.
If this all sounds a little mind-boggling and tiresome to maintain, an easy option is simply to outsource all e-commerce maintenance to somebody else. Businesses are increasingly doing this for their social media accounts and there’s no reason that another company can’t both build and run the online side of a dealer’s processes. It’s even more important, in this case, to remember the power and importance of dealer-customer relationships, but there’s no reason why a reseller which excels at customer service would let that drop even if they relinquished control of their online presence.
Reaping the rewards of online ordering helps create a much stronger brand and can improve a dealer’s marketing presence until that marketing essentially runs itself. Taking this step may seem daunting at first, but it’s undoubtedly worth the effort to expand the scope of your offering and make yourself accessible to the next generation of procurement directors.
With thanks to Tim Crabtree, MD of Abbotts, for inspiring some of these ideas.