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Today’s business landscape is littered with the remains of companies seemingly killed off – or left in critical condition – by technology. And a lot of wholesaler-distributors fear they may be next.
But was it really technology that did in those businesses?
In some cases, yes. But for many struggling or defunct enterprises, the root problem may have been simply neglecting the customer experience.
No matter what technology is on the horizon, no matter what Amazon does or doesn’t do, the bottom line is this: If you don't continually focus on customer experience, you will lose your competitive advantage.
The surprising – and good – news for any distributors who might be skittish about adopting technology is that when you put advancements like machine learning to work for you, it becomes much easier to deliver the stellar experience customers are looking for – even in this era of heightened expectations.
In their personal lives, your customers use the cloud, voice recognition, machine learning and other technology to do everything from ordering pizza and choosing entertainment to securing transportation and conducting banking transactions – and they can do it all with minimal effort or inconvenience. Why would they be happy accepting anything less when doing business with you?
Machine learning is just one example. It may sound intimidating, but the term simply refers to software that uses patterns in existing data to build knowledge and predict future behaviors. It’s the same technology that allows Alexa or Cortana or Siri to build a library of information about your musical tastes and favorite Chinese take-out.
In your business, machine learning can give you unprecedented insight into your customers – not just what they buy, but who they are, and when and how often and even why they buy your products. And because it goes beyond the old algorithms and actually predicts behavior, machine learning can tell you not only when your customers might need to re-stock your product, it can also advise you when a customer may be ready for additional or upgraded product.
Obviously, this is good for your business. But from your customer’s perspective, when you are pro-active in anticipating their needs and partnering with them to ensure they don’t run out of your product, this sends the message that you are focused on them. And you are creating the kind of customer experience that builds loyalty.
Another service technology can perform that will make your customers happy is voice recognition. With this technology, you can identify specific people who are speaking and use that identification as authorization to conduct sales and other transactions. With voice recognition, your customers don’t have to login, remember passwords or even be at their desk to communicate with you. Again: good customer service.
There are other technologies on the horizon, such as chat bots, that will allow your customers – who frequently aren’t at their desks but out in the field – to remotely check on the status of an order and learn not only that it’s on its way but whether to expect delivery in five minutes or five hours.
By using these and other game-changing technologies, forward-thinking distributors can effectively compete against any new market entrants – provided that as they implement that technology, they maintain a constant focus on their customers’ experience.
Matt Petersen is a Senior Director of Industry Solutions for ENAVATE and has spent his entire career in the enterprise software industry. Matt was a founding member of the SAP for Wholesale Distribution Industry Business unit and in 2014, he joined Microsoft to lead the U.S. Dynamics Retail and Wholesale Distribution Industry practice.
Matt has a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from the University of Illinois in Urbana - Champaign and a Certificate in Distribution Management from Texas A&M as well as a Certification from INSEAD in Business Strategy and Financial Acumen.