Vince Han is the founder and CEO of MobileCoach and a frequent speaker at conferences such as Training Conference, DevLearn, FocusOn, Online Learning, ATDTK and others. He holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Vince is an industry thought-leader for learning and learning technology with an emphasis on artificial intelligence and chatbot technology. Vince has founded several successful technology companies and resides in Utah.
21st Century Customer Expectations – Can Direct Selling Companies Deliver?
Can you remember life before Google?
It’s amazing how entrenched Google (and search in general) is in our day-to-day lives. The ability to ask the Internet any question and get an immediate response is something we can easily take for granted, but it’s the kind of thing that was pure science fiction not too long ago.
In the United States, approximately 25% of the population was born after Google was founded. These Americans haven’t known a life without instant access to answers via the Internet. And these digital natives are the key audience for any business looking to thrive in today’s economy.
The direct selling industry finds itself at a crossroad – it is an industry founded in the middle of the last century and has proven itself as a vehicle for millions of entrepreneurs, but after multiple consecutive years of declining growth coupled with increasing regulatory pressures, it is in need of major upgrades if not a complete rebirth.
And there is no better way to reshape the direct selling industry than meeting the expectations of the 21st-century customer. Direct sellers must focus on attracting and keeping distributors as their primary customer as well as on pleasing the end consumers of their products and services.
So what does a 21st-century distributor expect?
Yes, Google has trained us to expect immediacy in all aspects of life. We can cringe all we want at this culture of instant gratification, but the expectation is not going away anytime soon. And what do we want immediately?
- Answers to our questions
- Problems solved
- Products shipped
- To get paid
I recently ordered Apple’s new credit card, the Apple Card. I applied for and obtained the card using the native Wallet app on my iPhone. Moments later, I purchased a new Apple product from my laptop, and immediately the Apple Card appeared as the default preferred payment method.
Once you experience this type of seamless interconnectivity from one device to another or from one website to a different app, you expect it everywhere you go digitally.
Basic interconnectivity started with federated identification (e.g. using your Facebook login for Spotify, newsletter subscriptions, Etsy profile, etc.) while more integrated systems rely on advanced APIs (e.g. I can track the delivery status of my Amazon order on the UPS website).
But there are still major limitations that frustrate users. For example, if I don’t know how to use an app on my iPhone, I should be able to ask Siri for help; but, Siri can’t tell what I’m looking at because the app is managed by a non-Apple company. So, while there is still work to be done to streamline our digital experiences, today’s users expect a high level of integration.
Access to Social Media Audiences
Social media has democratized access to the world—I can create content and have people from all around the planet view it. Social media platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram give creators access to a seemingly limitless audience. That ease of publishing has been the catalyst of literally billions of hours invested in content creation.
What isn’t democratized, however, is content creation talent. Take a look at most large public high schools in the United States. Instagram and TikTok adoption is ubiquitous but only a small percentage of content creators find broad success. Some are just more naturally talented in creating compelling content—and it is these individuals that are a ripe new market for direct selling companies.
These influencers would love nothing more than to be paid to continue creating content that their audience craves. Direct selling companies that figure out how to leverage influencer talent and audience are going to be steps ahead.
Privacy and Online Security
If immediacy plus interconnectivity is the ying for the 21st-century customer, privacy plus online security is the yang. The technological trade-off with an open digital experience is more exposure and risk to personal privacy and security. The more services and servers that know about and host my data, the more at risk I am of being the victim of hacks, security breaches, and identity theft.
While IT executives might complain of trying to service the double standard of openness and security, it remains the expectation from today’s customer. Yes, you must help me have a seamless, integrated experience and keep my data private and secure.
For direct selling companies looking to thrive in today’s fast-changing environment, they will have to make an honest assessment of where they stack up against these 21st-century expectations. Questions they should be asking themselves:
- Who on our executive team is equipped to help transform our UX (user experience)?
- How do our vendor partners stack up against these expectations? Do we believe that our partners have the people and vision to deliver the user experiences we need?
- How ready and willing are our existing top field leaders to go through the changes needed to attract and keep a new generation of sellers and customers?
- Do we have the organizational discipline to plan for, budget for, and execute the changes we need to make?
And if any direct selling company does not sense the urgency to transform themselves, they may sadly find themselves like retail companies (e.g. Toys R Us, Blockbuster, Radio Shack to name a few) that also underestimated the need to cater to online audiences. And those that make today’s digital consumer a real priority can look forward to being a part of the next generation of direct selling companies.
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