Integrating Text for an Omni-Service Experience

Or I could have titled this “Replicating Your Customer’s Experience – Why Text Should Be Part of Your eCommerce Offering.”

Earlier this year we conducted research on contractor decision drivers in working with distributors for a client. While admittedly it was light on electrical contractor responses, that was a function of their list, there is value in learning from other industries.

Text as a Business Tool

One area of the research related to using text as a business tool.

eCommerce is more than commerce (the transaction happening online). It’s about electronic customer interaction and facilitating commerce.

After all, if you offer multiple ways for the customer to transact with you are you going to say no to an order if they got the information online (ideally from om your site) or checked your inventory or pricing online and then emailed you … or called your (in their mind “their”) inside salesperson?

A growing communications, marketing and commerce tool in the HVAC and plumbing industries is texting.

Two things

  1. The telephone evolution to smartphones (now the predominant type of phone in use) puts text capabilities in everyone’s hands and texting is no longer strictly the domain of the young.)
    1. Did you know that 92% of construction workers use smartphones?
  2. More and more electrical contractors have diversified into plumbing and/or HVAC / mechanical. 

Given the growth in this sector, and the applicability of the application to electrical distributors (and some are already using it), we reached out to Prokeep,  a leader in this space, for some insights. (I had met Jack Carrere, co-founder of Prokeep, at a NAED conference a few years ago.)

Omnichannel Engagement Breeds Better Brand Loyalty

By now, we’re all familiar with the image of the typical teen glued to their smartphone screen. We adults shake our heads and wonder aloud what has happened to today’s youths . . . and then turn back to our own smartphones.

The truth is, the ubiquity of smartphone usage can’t be dismissed as a millennial trend, either. While it’s true that millennials spend at least five hours per day on their smartphones, baby boomers spend just about the same. The point isn’t to shame any group or person, but rather to illustrate the undeniable fact that people of all ages are becoming more tech-savvy and tech-dependent. Increasingly, the labor force sees their phones as the natural way to communicate and get the information they want to make buying decisions. Any marketing or sales platform should consider the smartphone as a hub of customer engagement.

Omni-engagement for distributors

This focus on mobile engagement isn’t groundbreaking but is especially valuable when it comes to the distribution space.

That’s because contractors’ online spending has accelerated rapidly in the past two years. According to a study we collaborated on with HMI Performance Incentives, which was conducted by Channel Marketing Group, roughly 64% of contractors currently use some form of omnichannel e-commerce tool to make purchases through distributors’ websites, text message ordering, and channel partner apps.

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Contractors Increasingly Engage with Distributors in Omnichannel Fashion

What’s more, as we’ve previously highlighted at Prokeep–where we’re exclusively dedicated to, and purpose-built, for distributors–37% of these contractors expect to increase their electronic interaction with distributors in the near future. Text message communication is becoming more integrated into the contractor-distributor relationship.

The growing demand for business texting

For starters, the majority of consumers have already expressed a preference for companies that offer messaging communication. This tracks with the figures found by the aforementioned HMI report, where over half of contractors surveyed said they already interact with distributors, or at least distributor salespeople and specialists, through SMS text messaging in some capacity – whether for ordering, procurement, or general customer service inquiries and order updates.

These contractors have also made it clear that distribution companies can best improve their digital footprint by providing more sophisticated communication and support and more efficient, real-time updates. To address these, distributors need a messaging solution that is purpose-built for distributors – one that allows that distributor’s point-of-contact to more easily stay personally connected to their customers, but that at the same time can automate the delivery of critical info and updates by integrating with back-end systems such as an ERP platform.

More and more frequently, the inside sales rep serves as a distributor’s point of contact, in what has now cross between customer service and a more traditional sales role. But, as contractor customers expect more from their distributor partners, and these relationships become more real-time and on-demand, it makes sense that the role of the inside salesperson evolves into the lynchpin of the entire customer experience. The research would bears this out, with contractors expressing this relationship as the key differentiator when selecting a distributor with whom to do business.

Messaging: an easy next step toward omnichannel

Communication is now a central component—if not THE central component—of the distributor sales process. In today’s environment, where price volatility and product availability are so uncertain, the ability for distributors to share information consistently and conveniently with customers has increased importance.

The data reflects this trend now, both in terms of contractor habits and their preferences. As more and more digitally-native customers enter the B2B space, these trends will more than likely only accelerate, putting pressure on distributors to keep up with demand using ever more efficient omnichannel offerings.

Tackling such a big challenge will certainly require a multi-faceted approach. At the same time, adopting and implementing multiple disparate systems across departments can introduce unwanted complexity, disconnects, and challenges. The right communications tool, placed in the right hands, at the right intersection point of the value chain, may just be the right piece to start building the foundation for the future.

Messaging platforms like Prokeep, designed exclusively for distributors and the construction industry, make taking a single, next step toward an omnichannel future far easier and faster than many realize.

Prokeep is working with some electrical distributors, of which a couple are Channel Marketing Group clients, and, for full disclosure they are not(at least currently, never know!) a CMG client.

Given all of the technologies that distributors are investing in to automate aspects of the business and bring new services to facilitate the customer experience, it makes sense to consider how customers interact with your sales / service organization. There is only so much “automation” that can be done regarding a telephone call but, if people are migrating to “self-sufficiency” as well as interacting in a unilateral mode (which essentially text is … someone sends a message to ask for information … it’s tactical in nature and they are not looking for a lengthy conversation, which is why they are not calling), it makes sense to consider identifying how you can optimize, and perhaps measure, this interaction while bringing enhanced services to your customers.

As part of a distributor’s 2022 planning and budgeting process, it makes sense, in my humble opinion, to reach out to Prokeep to learn more.

Suggestion

And, if you’d like to conduct a quick, 5-10 question survey to your customers regarding eCommerce usage and especially text interacting, we could, essentially, replicate some of the “contractor decision driver eCommerce and text” questions that were part of our research project … cost-effectively and quickly. It interested, contact us for a quick discussion.

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