Differentiation in the virtual world is easier than you think

By Brian Mackow-McGuire, Data Product Manager, Maintel

It is time for businesses to re-think the headlong dive into virtualisation, cloud and all things online. This is not me coming down with a case of Neo-Luddism, but rather my reaction to all the digital portals, retailers, couriers and shippers who together form a soup of bland on-line presences with no human interaction. A couple of incidents recently have made me think businesses need to carefully consider how they interact with people at all stages of the sales and service cycle – digitally and otherwise.

It’s true that the growth of online presence offers a massive opportunity for organisations to differentiate their products and services through simple multi-media contact centres. In shopping mode you are bombarded with requests to ‘chat’. They can actually be quite intrusive when simply trying to browse or research purchases. But, where are these options to chat and interact in the down-stream, post-sale operations of online experience?

To illustrate let me share a couple of things that happened to me this week – one professional and one personal:

  1. A leading computer provider allowed me to register for training and then put me into a holding pattern for 5 days for no obvious reason. I suspect this is to allow the back end systems to be updated – but all help options simply lead to FAQ type pages with no option to chat, email, call or otherwise contact the content provider. A consequence, one suspects, of outsourcing the training to a third party specialist training provider rather than a lack of computing expertise.
  2. One of the UK’s major delivery companies failed in their “guaranteed next day delivery” and similarly failed to provide any robust tracking. Three days later and we are still #16 of 23 deliveries for the driver to deliver the tent – as we had been for the previous three days. Whilst the retailer was very responsive in trying to track where the delivery was, the courier provided no information.  

The consequences of the above are seemingly trivial – for #1 the training will be delayed until next month and for #2 a replacement tent was purchased from a high street shop, in person, for less money. However, the real consequences are actually:

  • a. Having been under intense pressure to re-certify for an application there is now a review of what value this supplier offers and whether we continue to support them. An online start-up has now reviewed its earlier decision to use “one of the UK’s major delivery companies” and has searched social media with the result that a new entrant to the UK delivery market has emerged as more flexible, with lower costs and positive social media reaction. 

So, a computer company will lose wireless application sales and one of the UK’s major delivery companies has lost a new customer – all because their online presence lacked any interactive capability. 

No matter how slick the online presence it is still accessed by people who do not always follow logic and want to contact a human being to look at the back-end process and explain what is happening. This would help the users avoid wasting time by trying to either access training that is locked down or waiting for a tent to be delivered. 

Differentiation in the online digital age is not about virtualisation, artificial intelligence and drone deliveries. For a business with high levels of personal interaction, such as Maintel, personal relationships are crucial. In the pure online environment differentiation is about ensuring users can interact during the sale and subsequent delivery, implementation and service phases. This ability to build a virtual relationship with customers is key not only to differentiation but also to reducing returns, customer retention and repeat sales.  By ignoring the immediate post-sale interactions many virtual retailers are alienating customers and in turn losing current and future orders.