Inside the value of human capital to sales and service

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With customers’ ever-rising comfort levels to purchase and self-service online, and increased pressure on businesses to develop end-to-end Web enabled applications to accommodate, it seems the value of human capital in sales and service is diminishing. From a business end, consider that businesses must hire, train, coach, performance manage, payroll, incentivize, and provide benefits to employees – to highlight just some of the expenses involved. All of this makes investing in a well-designed e-commerce website, and customer relationship management tool, increasingly more attractive.

So where does this position the human touch to sales and service in the not so distant future?

An economic study by Desjardins titled ‘B2C e-commerce: catching up to a moving train’ shows that Canada’s eTail growth potential is greater than 10 percent per annum through to the year 2017. The average retail growth per year over the last decade has been 3.8 percent.   This trend is shifting the focus on where businesses are making long-term investments to maximize their profits. However, during this shift, businesses should not lose sight of how their management of human capital is impacting their brand today, and ultimately their bottom line.

Chart on B2C sales growth in Canada
Chart on B2C sales growth in Canada

Despite the noted inefficiencies of human capital, a brand can’t reach its full potential without people involved. There are a few areas where machines can’t outperform the human experience in brand delivery. Qualified representatives provide a richer interaction by: giving empathy to a problem a customer is trying to solve in their life with a product or service; offering sophisticated advice on what the best options are, through knowledge, experience and expertise; and by showing conviction.

Though businesses are increasingly using complex analytics to suggest items of interest online, this doesn’t equate to a recommendation made by a subject matter expert. I believe businesses must invigorate their strategies with human capital. Not for sake of or turning the tide on growing consumer trends to transact online – but to ensure the human requirements of their business are properly filled, and that a consistently strong customer experience is delivered through all channels.

The following are several findings about the multi-channel service experience, taken from a survey by Synthetix, a customer service software company:

  • 91% of consumers expect to receive consistent information over multiple customer contact channels.
  • 65% have received inconsistent information when contacting brands via multiple channels
  • 74% rank a poor multi-channel experience as a major annoyance
  • 9 out of 10 people would move to a competitor due to poor customer service.

With the Web empowering customers to quickly do comparative shopping, and to place direct orders, the key to human sales and service holding it’s value in the future must be twofold: authenticity and competence. There are only so many times consumers will allow themselves to fall victim to poor service, misinformation, and uncompetitive pricing, before they seek the web for alternatives.

According to a study by Bain and Company, this means serious business as “increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%”. The days of customers getting their communications services mixed up by their provider while trying to make changes, then spending hours on the phone to rectify the issues, is putting a nail in the coffin of human service. Nightmares like these, that have consumers with one foot out the door in dealing with service reps, can ultimately mar the transaction and bruise the company deeply.

Human service can’t be replaced

As leaps in efficiency are gained through web applications, when human interaction is required by customers at key touch points, they will be looking to be well taken care of. For example, when a customer cannot find the information they need through a self-service web portal; wants to make a big ticket purchase; has a complex service request; or has an issue that needs to be escalated. They will be seeking a qualified representative that can address their concerns and bring them to resolution. This is where the line is drawn in the sand between people and technology providing service. Businesses must reawaken themselves to the place of human service, and continue investing into it to make sure it’s done properly as they chase their digital oasis.

Observing the growing willingness of Canadians to participate in eTail through the 2014 holiday season, according to a survey by Ipsos Reid, one third of Canadians stated they were likely to do all of their shopping online. This was up 50 percent from a similar survey performed at the same time in 2013. The verdict is out. Consumers are growing tired of fighting for parking spots, navigating through crowds, and dealing with hungry sales reps trying to get them to buy more than what they are looking for. It’s time to shift focus and understand the representative’s role in the midst of the new way of doing business – during today’s financial crunch, and in the time of the informed consumer.

Company representatives should be groomed to providing the best service possible, with no pretences. Businesses can accomplish this through focused hiring practices in their sales and service force, to ensure new hires are a good match for their culture and brand. They should also drive customer-centric behaviors through a delicate balance of pay, metrics and incentives, to ensure no corners are cut in the customer experience.

Yet technology and people can also come together to offer something more compelling. Take the growing phenomenon with businesses to offer ‘Click-to-Chat’ to customers. Being able to engage a live representative online via typed conversation, at any hour to complete a service a request, gives clients the best of both worlds. It provides quick and indiscrete access to service, while humanizing the interaction, whether the company is B2C or B2B. ‘Click-to-chat’ also gives added value, enabling the customer to request a transcript of the transaction – something not readily available through other channels.

Over the last century, human capital in the supply chain became increasingly performance managed. Yet as we race towards maximum efficiency with the assistance of emerging technologies, and further cutbacks to human sales and service skew the workforce, the pendulum will eventually swing back. A quality customer service experience that only a human can provide will become increasingly important to differentiate a business from its competitors.

After all, with Amazon looking to have their drone air delivery service launched this year, there is no sense for human capital to compete on speed of service alone. Consumers will be calling upon qualified representatives when they’ve grown tired of being put through the digital car wash that e-commerce can be. The question is, will your business be ready to deliver?

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Allan Vayman

Allan Vayman

Allan writes about leadership and success in corporate culture. With a career rooted in sales and service, he was worked for a handful of the largest financial institutions over the last 15 years.
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