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Top 20 Stories of 2016: #14 Hey Distributors, Bring Back the Personal Touch! (Part I)

Top 20 Stories of 2016: #14 Hey Distributors, Bring Back the Personal Touch! (Part I)


Every weekday in December, tED magazine is counting down the Top 20 Stories of 2016. Below, the #14 most-viewed story of the year, originally published on July 26, 2016.


By Bridget McCrea

If you’re not visiting your customers on a regular basis, or at least picking up the phone to check in, then you may be missing out on a big chunk of repeat business.

Now that your customers can click, tap, and swipe their way through the buying journey, the personal touch is quickly disappearing and being replaced by real-time, 24/7, digital communications. According to a recent IDC study, Thriving in the Digital Economy: How small and midsize enterprises are adapting to digital transformation, 41.8% of companies believe that the next generation of corporate employees won’t have the same kind of relationships with customers as experienced in the past and 38.7% say employees are no longer as personally connected to customers.

“With the widespread adoption of social media, Internet search, and e-commerce, consumers have so much more access to information and buying options,” writes SAP’s Johann Wrede in Is The Personal Touch Possible In The Digital Economy? “Sometimes people want to use their phone to search the web or get on social media – and other times, they want to talk to someone or even look them in the eye as they shake hands. Either way, it’s up to the company to dial up or dial down the intimacy of the experience to suit the individual’s needs and preferences.”

And while automation may replace many routine tasks—and while customers are increasingly willing to buy direct with or without the aid of a salesperson—the human touch is still critical, Hearsay Social’s Clara Shih writes in How Traditional Salespeople Can Stay Relevant In The Age Of Automation.“Consider your own frustration when you call a service provider—hoping to have your unique question or problem addressed—and can’t get through to a live person.”

“The key point is this: customers—even big business customers—are still people, and people like to do business with other people,” Shih continues. “This is especially true in B2B sales where products and services can be costly and complex. Often, decision makers need answers to questions that are not always anticipated in datasheets, brochures, and videos—with the level of specificity only a one-to-one interaction can provide.”

More Check-ins, Please
Dave Gilson, owner of Terabyte Technologies, Inc., in Aloha, Ore., is one electrician who would like to see more salespeople calling on his company and in some cases, simply returning “live” phone calls (versus just using email or other digital means).   

“I deal with a few major suppliers around here and they’ve definitely lost that touch,” Gilson points out. “They used to call me at least once or twice a year to check on us and see how things were going. That’s dropped off; I don’t even hear from them anymore.”

Now, if hearing electrical contractors complain that they’re not getting the same level of attention that they used to get from their distributors isn’t enough to make you sit up and take notice, consider these sobering statistics:  

  • It is six to seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing client.
  • 9.5 minutes are spent on average trying to reach a human when trapped in an automated phone system
  • 61% of consumers take their business to a competitor when they end a business relationship
  • Globally, the average value of a lost customer is $243
  • Companies focus on acquisition more than customer retention, even though it can cost seven times more to acquire new customers
  • 63% of marketers feel that new customer acquisition is the most important advertising goal

“In an era when companies see online support as a way to shield themselves from ‘costly’ interactions with their customers, it’s time to consider an entirely different approach: building human- centric customer service through great people and clever technology,” writes Kristin Smaby in Being Human is Good Business. “So, get to know your customers. Humanize them. Humanize yourself. It’s worth it.”

Being “human” and restoring the personal touch is especially worth it in the electrical distribution field, where products tend to be highly commoditized and differentiation among providers is sometimes unrecognized by busy electrical contractors working out in the field. “In any distribution business, you’re basically running a commoditized business,” says Richard Trimber a business attorney with General Counsel PC in McLean, Va., and a former COO of both a manufacturing and distribution company. “To stand out, you really have to focus on service and on creating strong bonds with your customers.”

Developing those bonds has definitely become more difficult in the information age, where electronic communications like email and text messaging are often used for quick correspondence. Add social media to the mix and the opportunity to get face-to-face (or, at least phone-to-phone) with a customer becomes that much more out of reach. And don’t think that your customers don’t notice the communication gap. As Gilson pointed out, those quarterly and annual “check ins” are actually still necessary—and greatly missed in some cases.

Trimber says strong, interpersonal communication is especially critical when customer relationships are in peril. “When you fail, mess up an order, or miss a delivery window, the customer that truly knows you and understands the value that you bring to the table is the one that will come back and keep buying from your company,” says Trimble. “The one that you’ve only communicated with via email—or that is still placing orders with you via fax, and without any human interaction—is the one that will start looking around for a new supplier.”

Building Trust 101
With electrical contractors asking for a more personalized communication approach, and with your next competitor chomping at the bit and ready to steal away your valued customers, it’s time to restore the personal touch and create even stronger bonds with your clients. “Why is this important?” Trimber asks. “It’s important because in a commoditized business, why someone works with you and purchases from you over a competitor is all that matters, and the reason better be trust.”

“If the reason why is price, then good luck. However, if it is service and reliability based on trusted relationships, you will win,” Trimber continues. “You keep the competition out because they cannot gain a foothold to build the trust.”

In Part II of this article series we’ll highlight specific strategies for infusing the personal touch, regaining trust, and creating strong customer bonds in today’s competitive business environment.

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.


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