Consumer Disruption –The middleman, parting is such sweet sorrow
With the ‘b’ word showing no signs of dissipating any time soon, businesses globally, seek to prepare for the seemingly unpredictable aftermath and economic uncertainty it will bring.

Implementation of cost cutting exercises has long since been the saviour of many businesses looking to avert risks, improve productivity or increase profits. Now is obviously no exception, as we see several global powerhouses shift gear in favour of warmer climates or as the case would be, warmer trading conditions.

For smaller businesses, the challenge of staying competitive is far greater. The option to simply up-sticks and move out of the UK, to be frank for most, is not an option. However, consumer disruption is pretty much order of the day, small businesses often have an advantageous position when it comes to responding to consumer demands in real-time.

Times are changing, so too is the delivery of products and services to b2c and b2b markets.

Think back twenty or so years ago, if you were even grown up back then, when we wanted to book a holiday, a trip to the local travel agent was customary. There you were greeted by a friendly travel agent bursting with enthusiasm at the mere thought of all the commission they could earn from getting you to book the holiday of your dreams. If like me, a trip to the travel agents made you feel like a kid in a sweet shop, so spoilt for choice you needed more time to think, never fear. To the detriment of rain and other forests globally, you left armed with a bundle of brochures to peruse during your free time.

Fast forward to the 21st century, many if not most millennials have no experience of visiting a high street travel agent. Instead, they are more likely to be familiar with a range of price comparison and booking websites. Carefully tailoring their get-away to the finest detail in accordance with their most desired preferences.

In the short-term, job losses and branch closures represented the down side of consumer disruption within the travel industry. However, in the longer term the shift towards booking holidays online and ability to tailor make holiday packages in your own time has become a win, win, scenario for both consumers and travel operators. Holidaymakers get to make their own decisions about the best deal for them, while travel agents get to save time and money, handling vast amounts enquiries at the same time for a fraction of the cost.

Quality versus Quantity

Whilst automation and web based platforms that sell products and services is great for innovation, profit and productivity there can also be a downside.

Customer experience is inevitably an extension of customer service or vice versa. As consumers, we enjoy the convenience of digital era.  By comparison, far less of us, actually enjoy the process of having to shout several times at Alexa or a similar device when making a simple request, or dealing with clumsy, regimented automated customer service systems, when things go wrong.

In a survey carried out by Talk Desk, an astounding 43 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the service they received from customer service support contact centres. With some 80 percent of respondents siting mobile phones as being their preferred method of contact when seeking assistance. This poses the question as to whether you can ever truly automate customer experience without making a huge sacrifice in terms of the quality of service provided.

The increasing need for greater connectivity between devices and vast array of products and services is set to continue. With this in mind, in order to stay competitive and align with growing consumer preferences, small businesses will need to adopt creative, innovative solutions within existing business models, without compromising customer experience. Creating a seamless transition between applications where consumers can access suppliers, products and services, in keeping with the times.

Good things come in small packages

Arguments for and against automated customer service can be found on various websites online. With some surveys, stating people prefer some human interaction during the customer experience, while others veer towards self-service solutions.

The answer is far from being one size fits all, developing an effective customer experience is largely dependent on the nature of a business and its customer demographics. Global communications giant BT announced in 2018 that they would bring their call centres back to the UK by 2020. Why, because the move to cut costs by relocating them to Asia has not worked out and this is seen as essential in order to improve services,

Speaking with Brian Dent our International Trade Partnership Manager for London and Global Sports Lead, Brian states “small businesses are often in good position to rapidly respond to changing market demands”. “They often have less red tape to get through meaning they can adapt to change far quicker than their larger counterparts”.

In short finding the right balance between automated and human customer service is essential and unique to each business. The only way to know what type of services works best is obvious, listen to what your customers want.