It used to be that B2B solutions varied drastically from the world of B2C. The notion that businesses had a very ‘narrow market’ served to justify the absence of marketing and/or an investment towards customer research and development. Well, that belief system may be true in the physical world, but the virtual realm has leveled the playing field. Still, some industries remain in the dark with regard to envisioning Internet success. Wholesale Auto Auctions, specifically, despite providing an opportunity for customers to acquire vehicles online, do not seem to view much potential in segmenting and catering to virtual prospects. However, the costs associated with providing online technology, the strength of targeted online searches, and the growing expectation of customers to enjoy a personalized online experience has prompted several auctions to review their current solutions.
A great misconception many auctions share is the belief that online customers are satisfied, simply because they do not receive calls stating otherwise. Reports demonstrate another story. One auction had over 300 online attendees over the course of a year, but seemed to average 15-25 customers week to week. No one can really say what happened to the other 275-285 customers, but I can tell you this… Many online customers report the inability to reach anyone at the auction, much less get the support they need on sale day. Yet, several auctions continue to promote their online events in an effort to obtain more customers despite the lack of a retention effort or having a customer service operation in place. For the sake of visualization, picture holding a strainer under the faucet and waiting for it to fill up. Even as a thought, it’s a very frustrating concept.
Whether an auction has 2 online attendees per week, or 200… the potential for growing this segment is higher at this very moment than it will ever be. The industry is evolving, and the pressure to adapt is going to rapidly increase as the next generation of buyer-reps, raised on technology, begin to fill the positions once occupied by generation ‘kick-the-tires’. These individuals will never step foot in an auction. Meanwhile, many alternative online solutions will have emerged with the strategy to eliminate the auction process altogether. Auctions with an unfriendly approach to online facilitation will, without a doubt, serve as the best advocate for these type of platforms, and the impact will be felt by the auto auction industry as a whole.
The irony is that, while each auction continues to look to more technology for their solution to online growth, the answer actually lies in the most traditional concept of business development… customer service. I have always preached the philosophy of humanizing the live Internet auction experience, letting customers know that they are working with people, not computers. However, I find that I need to now convey this message at the other side of the equation. The unseen customer is not familiar territory for the traditional brick-and-mortar auction, nor does this client meet the profile of the typical auto auction demographic. If this was the case, we would not be having this discussion. So how does an auction build a relationship with, and meet the needs of a customer it has never met? Well, much in the same way they would build any clientele – dedication to understanding the customers’ needs, and delivering.
The Internet, itself, provides a low-cost expansion opportunity for any business willing to play by the online rules of customer engagement. Companies are implementing online strategies such as personalization, where customer behavior is analyzed, and a response is generated based on activity. The most popular examples of this effort are the communication attempts that follow a transaction – most notably, the request for a review, or product suggestions based on prior purchases. Companies like eBay, and Amazon have mastered this initiative. In the Online Auto Auction industry, auctionVcommerce.com (AVC) is pioneering the effort for obtaining customer feedback, and building the auction’s online reputation. AVC is building the bridge that connects auto auctions to online customers.
Then there is still that matter of immediate support…
With the use of marketing platforms, credentialing services, simulcast, and other 3rd party vendors, the layering of technology could force an auction customer, or the auction itself, to make up to 3 support calls for a single issue. Most vendors will provide support for their technology, but reference the next vendor to continue to identify the resolution. Alternatively, auctions that have elected to provide dedicated online support via an AVC Membership have improved customer acquisition and retention efforts by managing online support throughout the entire process. In addition, AVC maintains support channels that are accessible to auction customers 24/7. With a broad scope of technology across the industry, AVC can proactively address customer concerns, and help auctions to operate more efficiently. Most importantly, AVC is a shared-service, which allows the auction a cost-effective approach to building the online foundation.
At the end of the day, it is all about meeting the expectations of the online customer, and it should be an industry-wide effort. The technology companies can provide the algorithms, email blasts can be sent to the mass mailing list stored in the auction database, but ultimately, the experience will have the most impact. In the words of Maya Angelou…
“People will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”