Outsource the Customer. How stupid. Yes, all of us know we outsource many parts of our business (from call centres, to billing, to market research, to back office work like paralegals, to medical encryption, to Customer and competitor tracking). Only someone from India (the home of outsourcing) could think of outsourcing Customers.
But it is happening, and has been happening for a long time, and now it is happening more and more. Customer outsourcing causes a major disruptive market and Customer force that rages, waiting for equilibrium.
Well outsourcing our Customer s to retail stores has been a common practice. Nothing wrong with it. But do we really manage this well?
Our attitude to Customer outsourcing we are familiar with is ‘well that’s the way we want our distribution to be.’ More often, we accept it as normal.
- We sell our products through retailers. We have outsourced our Customers to the retailers. They are handled by the retailers. We may still hold servicing and after-sales of our products within our company or outsource that too. We are anonymous to the Customer who is anonymous in turn to us. The anonymous dealing with the anonymous!Of course, we do not think we are anonymous. After all we do branding, we do market research, we advertise our company, our values are known. So we think we are not anonymous.But there is a difference between dealing with a company that is known because of branding and advertising, or because of its products, but its people remain anonymous, versus a company whose people are known. (Sadly, company run stores do not reduce the anonymity, but give an illusion of approachability).Of course, the company will not accept that they have unknown Customers; after all the retailers are our Customers.
- This anonymity increases with e-commerce. We do not have a physical retail store. The store is virtual. Sometimes, the delivery man is replaced by a drone. Think Amazon, EBay et al.If you buy an iPhone, are you an Apple Customer, a Best Buy Customer, or an Amazon Customer? Whom do you complain to?
- Completely outsourced Customers: You buy a product like a gifting item on the net or an item like a hammer on the net. Or your builder buys floor tiles for you. More likely than not, you do not know the brand, and so you are completely outsourced by the manufacturer.
- There was a time when an orphaned Customer was one that was kind of outsourced, or he felt he was ou tsourced.Today many times we are all orphaned Customer s. <br<
Orphaned Customers are those who have got part way through a sales cycle but for some reason have been abandoned.This can happen when other salespeople in your company are overloaded, go on holiday or leave the company. In the Insurance business orphaned Customer s are those abandoned by brokers, or sales people who have left Standing by to catch the fallout can help both you and your company.You can also find orphans at exhibitions and conferences. Watch for people looking a bit lost or expectant. Or in a store.
Customers are used to attention, especially when they are thinking about buying. If they are ‘abandoned’ by one sales person, they may feel rejected and lose esteem. When another sales person comes along and ‘rescues’ them, their appreciation to that sales person may make them more attention to the sales person beyond what they might normally give.
There are hundreds of outsourceable services such as (to name a few)
Brand Reputation Management, Complaints Management, Customer Satisfaction Monitoring,
Helpdesk Support, Live Chat Support, Order Fulfilment, Refund Processing, Survey Management, Telephone Support, Voicemail Handling
FAQ Writing, Forum Content, Forum Moderation
Knowledge base Building
Sales & Marketing
Advertising Placements, Branding and Publicity, Demographic Profiling, Direct Marketing Management, Email Marketing Campaigns, Google AdWords Management, Google Analytics Setup. Internet Marketing Strategy, Lead Generation, Market Research, On line and Offline Marketing Strategy, Public Relations, Sales Representation, Sales Training, Search Engine Marketing, Telemarketing
Social Media Management
Website and Social media updation, Social Bookmarking, Digital strategy, Cloud storage, big data retrieval and analysis, Marketing spend
What happens to the Customer Paradigm?
Well, Customer s get used to many of these things. We do not think we are outsourced till we have a problem, and then we feel lost.
Second many of us like the feel of digital or e-buying or self-service or the feeling of being in control.
We think we are getting the best value because we can “shop” for price and availability and deals.
Lessons for Sellers:
- If you are a manufacturer and sell directly (physical store or e-store): give the Customer good service, help them shop around, make them feel in control. Ensure you are not anonymous; and be easy to reach and not anonymous. Have people assigned to different Customer groups (like airlines and some credit card companies) that are reachable.
- It you are a Manufacturer but sell through a retailer: The manufacturer should strive not to be anonymous, making it easy for the Customer to deal with him and to contact him. The retailer should give good service…and think of becoming the service centre (where the product can be dropped off and picked up, and a return date given). The retailer can then work with the manufacturer’s service centre. This may increase your footfalls and drive Customer s back to you. It may make the e-commerce Customer s come to you, the retailer.
- If you are a Manufacturer selling through e-commerce: Make your service people and your marketing people less anonymous…set up relations between your people and Customer s, Break the anonymity. The e-commerce provider can do similar things.
- Figure out what creates value for the Customer in each channel. See the differences between value creation in retail vs. e commerce…understand which Customer s prefer which channel and why, and add value to them in that channel.