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It’s Personal: How Automation Improves Customer Intimacy

As a society, we are now entering our fourth decade of collective frustration with the automated telephone systems (“phone trees”) that every organization, from the cable company to the Internal Revenue Service, uses to process incoming calls.

But think about the things in life that are much better—like using the pharmacy’s automated phone system to refill a prescription instead of having to drop it off at the counter. This simple, yet brilliant, innovation frees up your time and allows the pharmacist to focus on personal consultations.

The high tech/high touch connection

The pharmacy story holds true for B2B companies that believe “too much technology” can reduce the personal touch in business; the reality is, when companies turn to their B2B networks to automate time-consuming tasks, they have more time to focus on personal relationships—and boost customer intimacy.

This benefit rings particularly true when automation is applied to the market-to-cash cycle. By automating day-to-day tasks via an online business network, you can dramatically increase productivity and decrease the need for human intervention. That’s what gives you and your team more time to focus on high-value activities that strengthen customer relationships, such as:

  • Making in-person sales calls to deepen the interpersonal relationships with your customers
  • Bringing customers up to speed about new product enhancements
  • Jointly developing a new solution to a customer problem
“How do I get there?”

The first step toward achieving these benefits is to join an online business network focused on connecting buyers and sellers. B2B networks give all participants (buyers and sellers) a standardized way to communicate with each other, paving the way for automation and efficiency in all interactions, spanning the entire transaction.

Reducing the “run-around” buys back precious time

B2B networks are designed to maximize the value of everyone’s scarce time. The most advanced networks offer buyer-seller matching and easy ways to automate RFI and RFQ responses. They have integrated purchasing, order management, invoice and payment tools that bridge functions that are usually handled by different departments within companies.

This gets everyone on the same page, minimizing back-and-forth (whether it’s paper-based, on the telephone or via email) particularly when orders are modified, expedited or cancelled. And, think of that big invoice you waited impatiently to be paid—only to find out it was sitting idle on the approver’s desk while she was out on vacation. In an automated environment, the invoice would’ve been routed to her manager or other designated stand-in.

Because workflows and communications follow certain protocols around errors, exceptions, and approvals, you and your staff don’t get pulled in as often to do “damage control” with unhappy customers. When operations run smoothly, you’ve suddenly got more freedom to interact with customers and prospects in positive, proactive ways.

The cost-benefit upside of B2B networks

Even though it may take a commitment to get set up on a business network that automates processes with your customers, the benefits are worth it. One of business networks’ main benefits—efficiency— can touch all of your customer collaboration processes, giving you time to pursue the brass ring: an intimate relationship with your best customers.

So what’s your take on technology vs. personal touch? Are you reaping the benefits?

Next post: Great! You’ve closed the deal and gotten the sale. How can you make sure the order is processed without a hitch? Read my post next week:

Orderly Conduct: Tips for Processing Orders with Maximum Efficiency.

About the author
Rob Mihalko
Rob Mihalko

Rob oversees Ariba’s overall seller marketing initiatives as well as the Ariba Discovery service. Before joining Ariba, Rob held a variety of marketing, business development, and finance roles at Microsoft, Disney, and Intel. He was also a manag... Read More >>>

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