The human factor
Another month of conferences ahead – I needed a few shirts for business travel. I knew my size & also my typical choice of “modern fit” with my favorite brand. But hey, there’s innovation! They have a new “stretchy” fabric on offer, with more freedom to move, and even less ironing. But how does it feel when I move? (I rather talk with my arms than with my hands). I had to try it on first.
Next Saturday morning in my preferred men’s outfitter – “my” new shirt was on display, yay. I asked for my size and fit. The sales person regretted that this combination was not possible. They suggested a slim fit, and a larger size. I tried it on – no way. I needed to grow longer arms for this one. I took out my smart phone and showed what I wanted, and that this “combination” was indeed possible online.
To take the story short: in the end, I decided to give the “local dealer” a second chance – and they ordered it for me – online.
Later, at home, I wondered: Why did I stay? Even if the overall customer journey, in this case ,was quite bumpy, and I would have to return to the shop to pick-up my perfect shirts?
My take: They earned my loyalty over many excellent previous experiences. They were outstanding “recommenders” and advisors – friendly, humorous, slightly flirty. (Admittedly, not to the level of the amazing hybris changing room below).
Whenever I left the shop in the past, I was absolutely confident I got the perfect product, and I looked great in it.
Could an AI, or a bot, in a perfect web-channel beat this?
Partly – hardly. Depends on the category – this obviously works well for media and consumer electronics. For many other products, I still prefer the shop experience.Thinking about the video, the sales staff played a major role.
Will VR kill the showroom?
Last week, my fridge gave a strange sound, and went dead after 20 years of reliable service. This is one of these situation where you do not wait for the next seasonal offer, but you need a fast remedy.
Being an engineer, the selection process was pretty straight forward. I nailed down a few easy boundary conditions around dimensions, energy efficiency, quietness – no need for smartness.I checked the latest online test results and amazon reviews, and narrowed it down to a short list: of 2 manufacturers, but a hell lot of model options, especially with regards to interior racks, compartments, and climate zones. I realized that I could not decide this online – despite beautiful videos and lots of explanations. I had to touch it & try it out.
In the shop I could “de-select” the options easily:
- An adjustable rack felt prone to fall off after a few months.
- Some drawers did not have a stopper and fell out.
- And some compartments were designed in a way it seemed impossible to get something out once you managed to get it in.
- How do the doors open & close? Will they stand our morning routine’s strain and our kids “impulsiveness”?
Could VR (virtual reality) and 3D in the online shop replace this?
Partly. It helped to stay on the short list. But I needed the reality check.
How about other products? Tiles, faucets, a roof window, or furniture?
Based on my own experience, this differs a lot.
- Tiles – How slippery do they feel? How much do you see dust, splashes and stains? My point of view: I need to see & touch.
- Faucets – How smoothly and precisely can you adjust water & temperature? How ergonomic do they feel? How easy can you clean them?
My POV: I need to see & touch, plus need customer reviews
- Roof windows – My key criteria to short list are reliability & trust to the brand. To decide on options, I need to know how my room would look like with more light? Seeing & touching does not really help. I may need some VR or 3D to see the improvement beforehand.
- Wood and plasterboard – How easy can I put this up? Instructive videos, and customer reviews are much appreciated. And most convenient: will you cut it for me? My POV: This could work well fully online. I may want to touch real high-quality wood first.
My conclusion for building products:
For many building products you will need a showroom to get me as a buyer. I need to touch & see the product first – especially if your product goes in my home. How easy will you make it for me? Where is the closest showroom who has the product (or: more challenging, all considered products) available – and is open now? Can you make sure they know what I looked at online?
VR, YouTube how-to videos, and customer reviews are for some product categories essential. Without, I would not even put you on the short list. Sometimes it offers all I need to directly buy online.
Seamlessness – beyond placing the order
Customer experience goes clearly beyond buying – that’s somewhat valid or my shirt, but a lot more for my fridge. How does the product get transported to my home? How reliable and punctual is the delivery? I had many experiences where I needed to stay home waiting for a delivery, had to re-arrange my schedule – and then they did not make it within the announced time frame.
The future of commerce will not be drones – at least not in building products and home appliances.
I would rather predict more players moving into the direction of the below interview with CRH building products in the Netherlands. They have showrooms, distribution centers, and pick-up points – and they offer to get products delivered home. Or you can have your order ready in your local shop. (Where you may “touch & feel & experience” a few other products you would prefer not to shop online.)
Customer journey clearly goes beyond placing the order. For building products, this includes the logistics “channel”. And for DIY starters like me, please include an advice channel. (Ideally plus the option, to directly get s.o. more experienced doing the DIY in my place).
At least for me, this is even more important than simply being able to order through my smartphone.
Ideally, I want all the seamlessness. If you add the human touch – I will be your ambassador.
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