Debunking the ‘customers want personal service’ myth

It’s not something that I openly admit to but it is pretty standard for most small business operators. And that is that, for at least part of my work life, I am a salesman.

Yes, I need to hunt for prospects then, when found, present them with the benefits my business provides and gently persuade prospects to sign up. Then I change into my ‘craftsman’ guise to try to over-deliver on what was promised by the sales guy.

Which is not really my natural state – it’s just part of the job.

So when donning the sales persona, one part of the territory which isn’t so pleasant is getting knocked back before you’ve even had a chance to present your credentials.

No, we don’t need booming online sales, thank you

Small business operators are very time poor, and get approached by every vendor under the sun many times a week and even day, so you can understand their reticence about listening to yet another pitch when their valuable workday is diminishing by the second.

One key reason smaller business operators close the door before you’ve had a chance to pitch that wonderful website you will put together for them is that they prefer to provide ‘personal service’ to customers rather than rely on computers or the interweb to do it for them.

They claim that people like dealing with people, not computers, so have no intention of getting themselves online in any serious way.

Of course, one should take this with more than a grain of salt. It may well be just a convenient line to get rid of me or indicate that they are actually terrified of computers and anything to do with online.

We prefer to lose business in person

But according to the most recent Sensis eBusiness report, ‘lack of personal contact with the customer’ is the second biggest concern smaller business operators have about eCommerce, behind only ‘people being able to hack into your computer system’.

So perhaps it’s not my sales technique after all!

But this desire to maintain so-called personal contact with the customer may well be costing them significant business.

As any online sales growth statistic you care to point at will demonstrate, more and more customers are going online not just to purchase, but to research products and suppliers.

They are voting with their fingers and accessing a virtual shopping centre that Westfield could only dream of.

And if your business is not represented by a professional, well-optimised website, it simply loses the sale to a more web savvy competitor.

Helping yourself to the sale

What this trend tells us is that while personal service may be highly regarded by the business operator, more and more customers actually prefer to help themselves to finding out about your product online and, if they like it, ordering and then paying online.

In fact, the more you allow customers to help themselves via your website, by providing as much information about the product, pricing (including freight) and your ability to deliver on it and presenting it in the most professional way possible, the more online sales you will make.

And if you don’t, they will simply click over to a competitor that does.

As we’ve said in these pages several times before – if you don’t look after your customer online, a competitor will gladly do it for you.

What’s more, one could mount a fairly persuasive case that the previous attempts of providing personal service in the form of pushy sales people, has actually created more demand for self-service via the web.

Who wants to run the gauntlet of some craft sales technique when all the information you need is available online? Ironic isn’t it?

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au

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