Call or click?

By Lauren Duensing

May 2012 - My dad could spend hours in a bookstore going up and down the aisles, browsing a variety of topics. He passed along this quirk to me, and I, too, enjoy standing in a bookstore with shelves to the ceiling, thumbing through novels and cookbooks and purchasing an armful of items I didn’t even know I wanted.

Today, it’s hard to find a bricks-and-mortar bookstore to spend time in among the stacks. It’s even more difficult to find the time to shop. Because of websites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, consumers can order books during the week that will show up at their doors before the weekend.

Certain goods are easy to buy online. Books, for example, are always the right size. Steel and other commodity products are not.

I read a feature in the February 25th edition of The Economist, “Making it click,” which discussed the advantages of physical shops and the benefits of online selling. The article used Macy’s as an example of “omnichannel integration, that is selling stuff on television, through mail-order catalogs and online as well as keeping its department stores.”

This month’s cover story, “Stay in touch,” details how many of our readers are modernizing their operations to keep up with customers. Retailers, industrial, metals, finance companies and a whole host of other operations are playing catch up, trying to serve customers who increasingly want to do the quick and easy tasks through the Web and save the face-to-face interactions for more detailed projects. From search-engine-optimized websites to the ability to access order histories online, companies want to make it easy for current and potential customers to contact them and conduct business.

“We use technology when it helps us to advance our business strategies and goals and to become electronically connected to some of our largest customers,” says Chris Curran, president of Climax Metal Products Co., Mentor, Ohio. “Luckily, technological advances allow us to do more in these areas than we could 15 years ago.”

“Metals companies are changing their business strategies as the next generation of workers moves into the market,” says Scott Fasse, vice president of marketing at United Performance Metals, Hamilton, Ohio. “Today’s strategies are either built on technology or at the very least include a technology component. Additionally, the next generation’s use of technology has resulted in increased expectations around the speed of implementation for strategies and initiatives.”

Despite technological advances that streamline transactions, businesses still are emphasizing service. “Making it click” also pointed out retailers like Macy’s are focusing on training employees to provide a high standard of service, helping customers find what they need in the store in addition to implementing new online strategies. Amid the hustle and bustle of daily business, customers still expect to be treated with courtesy and not just written off as another number in a spreadsheet.

That’s why many executives still prefer face-to-face meetings for important discussions. According to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a business research division of The Economist Group, senior managers prefer meeting in person for initial discussions with partners, colleagues or clients. According to the research, respondents said these meetings helped prevent misunderstandings and accelerate negotiations.

There’s room in business for all types of relationships, from an in-person handshake to a quick email. New developments move quickly, however, and as people start relying on new technologies for everyday transactions, it’s imperative for companies to be in a position to upgrade their in-house capabilities. Otherwise, they’ll eventually find themselves at a disadvantage compared with their competition. MM


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