Barry Litwin believes great customer service means no customer service.
Litwin, the CEO of Systemax Inc., parent of industrial distributor Global Industrial, clarified that companies shouldn’t eliminate staff or disconnect toll-free numbers, but it does mean they should take a different approach to servicing customers.
True customer service, he says, is centered on the digital experience.
“It should be frictionless, where a customer can do things online and through mobile so that they don't have to make a call,” Litwin explained on the most recent episode of MDM Live. “We've all phoned AT&T in the past, we've all phoned airlines, and we have to wait on the line. It takes a long time to work through those channels. I think today's B2B buyer is so busy that they need to be able to contract and do business digitally.”
In other words, Litwin explained, don’t force your customers to endure automated voices, phone trees and dropped calls. Instead, provide them with the ability to pick up their tablet or smartphone or sit down with their laptop, all from the comfort of their office (or home, as the case may be now) and easily point-and-click their way to excellent service.
Litwin has seen this work at various stops during his career. He has been CEO at Systemax, Port Washington, New York, since early 2019, but his background includes running e-commerce in the electronic components segment and consumer retail.
While he’s been incorporating some B2C strategies at Global Industrial, the distributor — which ranked No. 25 on MDM’s Top Industrial Distributors List for 2019 — had a head start on its peers. The company has been transitioning its customer service capabilities to digital because it realized early on that B2B buying behavior was rapidly changing.
“Most B2B buyers today expect the consumer digital experience,” Litwin said. “They're buying at home from all their retailers. The preconceived notion of a business experience online versus a consumer experience online is all blending. Consumers are younger. They're used to doing all their work on mobile. The time is now, and we've spent the last 12 months trying to accelerate our overall digital experience for Global Industrial.”
The Digital Supply Chain
But what does a distributor’s digital, frictionless customer service look like? Litwin said features could include everything from chatbots on the website to text-based order tracking for orders — anything that allows for someone to check on the status of a shipment or invoice without talking to a live human. They’re all links on what Litwin calls the “digital supply chain.”
“We've looked at ways to incorporate artificial intelligence into our chat capabilities, being able to answer and anticipate why a customer’s coming to the site,” he said. “If they just placed an order a few days ago and now they ping the desktop, why should they have to call? Our site recognizes their order sensitivity and it pops up a panel that tells them where their order is because it knows. We've put those systems in place, and I think it's having a significant impact on customer satisfaction.”
The company has also adopted online returns and even online cancellation capabilities — all transactions that typically would happen through a call center.
These tools speak to Global Industrial’s commitment to providing a new form of customer service, something the distributor and its parent company are constantly looking to enhance and improve for their B2B customers.
After all, Litwin said, the digital transformation is a journey, not a destination.
“There's a lot more to happen around the digital self-service capabilities in the digital supply chain,” he said. “We believe we know the path to success, and it runs through the customer and their overall satisfaction with our service and transaction experience.”
Hear more about this topic on the MDM Live episode, hosted and moderated by MDM CEO Tom Gale and Mike Marks of Indian River Consulting Group.
And check out the June 10 issue of MDM Premium for even more insights from Litwin. In our lead article, Global Industrial’s R3 Program Preps Customers for Post-COVID-19 Work, he speaks with MDM Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Galentine about the company’s unique “Restore, Return, Rebound” program designed to help customers deal with the coronavirus crisis and its aftermath.
Join us on Friday, June 12, at 2 p.m. EDT for this week’s MDM Live, featuring more discussion about how distributors are responding to COVID-19, with a conversation with John Caplan, president, North America & Europe, Alibaba.com.