Beyond the web shop – how wholesalers move to new online service offerings
Driven by rising customer expectations wholesalers are adding new online services to their current offerings. Those can be self services like customers managing their accounts by themselves, or they can download billing documents with additional customer specific information. And more creative ideas do exist: in the past months I had the chance to speak with a couple of wholesalers who want to offer an extensive B2B platform to their customers. Their main focus is to create a communication and information platform for both customers and internal sales people. The web shop is an important part of the platform but only a part. The platform is supposed to be used to exchange and store any kind of relevant information. Both user groups will have the same view on relevant data without the need to store it locally and can therefore move away from relying heavily on email exchange.
The offering has much more potential: it is planned to create specific areas for different customer groups with information like best practice procedures, relevant regulatory updates, material for marketing campaigns, company news, reports, even contracts, agreements and so on. In addition information from manufacturers can be posted to the relevant user groups, this content can comprise e.g. information on products that will be replaced or new documentation.
A B2B platform with such offerings brings measurable value to the customer, as they do not need to use different communications channels (e.g. email, phone, web page, chat) but have mainly one access point to get in contact with the vendor and can access the communication history as well. I do not expect that phone calls or emails will vanish completely but with the platform those other channels can be enriched. Instead of writing an email the wholesaler’s representative answers customer questions by just referring to the appropriate page or document on the platform or he provides additional information also on the platform.
What needs to be considered when such a platform is planned that set up and maintenance of content for different customer groups requires a certain extent of editorial work. Content areas need to be renewed continuously, the responsible editor needs to check sources and to prepare content in a digestible format. For this work people with the necessary skills are required, and they need time to decide what kind of content is published and in which way. It seems obvious, that the higher the number of customer groups with individual content is the more editorial work needs to be done. It is necessary to find a balance between the offering of individually edited content and the effort to edit the content.
For clustering customers for different content areas various characteristics can be taken into consideration: that might be customer classification, sales volume, what segment the customer is in (in technical wholesale: industry customers, crafts men, retailers .. ; in food wholesale: canteens, restaurants, convenience shops ..) , customer size, products/product categories they ordered in the past, their interests and so on. However, independent how customers are clustered, the no. of customer groups should be manageable related to content management and administration effort.
The platform provides customers an exceptional service experience, as they have one place where everything comes together – communication channel, market place for information, customer service. People working in different departments can have access to the same information – and that applies for vendor and customer side.
Such an offering is a very good answer to the question how to find new ways in the digital age to serve customers the way they want them to.