In this month’s Big Ask we look at how the industry is adapting to the new working environment catalysed by COVID. As the number of people working from home, and working more flexible, continues to rise it looks like it will be here to stay for the foreseeable future
Chris Armstrong, commercial director, Office Power
What we are currently witnessing in the nationwide shift to flexible working and working from home is a mass migrating market. Customers are changing where they work, how they work and, most importantly, what and how they buy. It is vital that dealers can effectively and efficiently meet these new demands. By drawing on interactions with customers, using data surrounding their specific situation and then configuring websites, tools and technology to help find and cater to these customers, dealers can stay relevant and engaged with the demands this new customer presents.
Our dealer partners use a variety of tools, available in the Office Power system, to reach and service these changing customers and, in the recent months, we have accelerated our investment in the areas that specifically help target this migrating market. As well as flexibility and freedom for dealers to choose what and how they want to sell, segmentation, targeting and positioning are our key focus areas in developing these tools.
Ultimately it will be the dealer’s ability to personalise what they are offering – and who they are offering to – which keeps them relevant in this new world. Our most recent developments allow dealers to segment customers by their working locations and roles within a business, and then to personalise website banners and merchandising to push customised offerings to specific, targeted customer segments. This offering can vary from pricing, promotions and specific products, to free delivery and even bespoke, in-built category ‘stores’, providing customers with a truly personalised experience, driven by key data. We have been implementing this new functionality across our group very actively for a number of weeks now, and we’ve seen significant efficiency, ROI and increased engagement from customers who in the past have been quiet.
With a more fragmented, and widely dispersed, customer base comes the need for dealers to incorporate increased flexibility into their delivery and distribution model too. We have recently rolled out new functionality which supports this, enabling dealers to charge various customer segments differently for their delivery. This helps our dealer partners increase efficiencies as well as improve customer experience.
Overall, technology which supports a flexible, targeted offerings, underpinned by data interpreting specific customer behaviours, will enable dealers to continue to offer this migrating market the best possible products and service while protecting their bottom lines.
Robert Harper, marketing director, Prima Software
There’s no doubt that, in 2020, we have all had to adapt our businesses to enable us to continue to service the industry. For Prima, it was imperative that we continued to deliver the best service possible to our customers by ensuring that our employees were fully equipped with the tools and information required to successfully carry out their roles remotely.
Maintaining strong communication with both employees and customers was key. Since the initial lockdown in 2020 we have communicated regular updates via email and social media, ran daily and weekly company update meetings and hosted various, interactive, online social events and games for employees.
Throughout the year we have also evolved our key implementation and training processes to ensure that we can continue delivering our service, remotely and safely, to new and existing customers, ensuring the safety of all involved.
Our popular webinar programmes have transformed things in a way that has enabled us to continue to deliver free, informative training tips to our customers. We have also invited a selection of guest presenters to join us and demonstrate the benefits of their software and integration with Prima.
We are currently looking to grow our customer care team, and are already redesigning our induction and training processes to allow us to, successfully and remotely, onboard new employees into the team. It’s certainly been a challenging year, and we believe that adapting, working together, and supporting each other is key to ensuring that businesses survive and thrive throughout this pandemic.
Andrew Beaumont, MD, Exertis Supplies
There is no doubt that the industry has changed at a pace we could never have imagined. At Exertis Supplies we have seen a trend for many years towards ‘dispersed delivery’, and have positioned our business accordingly to meet the delivery needs of customers and consumers.
With people working from home a lot more this opens lots of new opportunities that we are able to help consumers with; from breakfast to bedtime – we can help with work and also rest and playtime!
The changes in working environments that we have seen the last few months has resulted in the range of products consumers want changing dramatically too. As well as supplying traditional office supplies we can also supply their morning coffee, mid-morning snacks, virtual meeting rooms to catch up with colleagues and customers and, when it’s time to relax, an Xbox or a TV to watch with the kids.
I cannot comment on how well others are servicing the home user but, with the highly experienced and passionate staff that we have throughout Exertis Supplies, it’s business as usual for us, in a very unusual world.
Steve Bilton, MD, FusionPlus Data
Working from home is not a new concept for many of us – certainly not within our own businesses (FusionPlus Data and EvolutionX) – but the world has changed in a pretty dramatic way for many of our customers, and those of our dealers.
Now, here’s the good news; from what I see and hear, and unsurprisingly for the resilient bunch we all are, everybody appears to be rising to these challenges throughout the supply chain – wholesalers, suppliers, software houses and dealers alike.
The national and specialist wholesalers have been doing this for years, and are very good at it; other suppliers have teamed up with 3PL companies to get down those cobbled streets, and the industry software platforms have all the functionality a dealer needs to manage these orders.
When you boil it down, a home-worker is just another delivery address in the ERP, just another user login for a webstore and, while they probably want to order in smaller quantities, they need a lot of ‘stuff’ to replicate what they had access to at HQ – desk, chair, laptop, laptop riser, foot rest, wrist rest, screen, headset, mouse, keyboard, multi-functional printer, ink/toner, shredder, pads/paper/pens, desk tidy, etc. – and some of that stuff will need replenishing (and servicing) from time to time.
The trick for the dealer is to ensure that their customers choose them to supply those products, and not the likes of Amazon. Dealers have access to more products now than ever before and I’m pretty sure that their customers’ FD’s would much prefer their staff to order from their dealer’s webstore – with its order authorisation features, and a monthly consolidated invoice split by cost centre – compared to a gazillion receipts coming in from all and sundry because, at that point, they’ve already lost control.
From our perspective, FusionPlus has seen many partners improve their product offerings with new ‘home-working’ products, smaller pack size options, etc., while EvolutionX has seen more end users registered, more use of the order authorisation and payment gateway functions – and some dealers investing in an additional store to go full-on B2C to ‘fish’ for additional business outside of their B2B accounts. For the record, daily transaction values through the network of 250+ Evolution stores is now higher than it was pre-COVID, and continues to climb, so it’s pretty clear that most of these orders are being placed online.
The bottom line is that working from home is not a temporary fad – it’s here to stay and, while it does create challenges, it undoubtedly also creates new sales and service opportunities that are really not that difficult to solve… so go get ’em!