"This, combined with the outstanding culture of customer service championed by its Zappos subsidiary, makes Amazon hard to beat. Customers expect speed, selection, service, and competitive prices from Amazon. As a result, the bar is raised for all competitors—provided they can find a niche within which they can still compete," she said.
Transparency with Customers Now Required
Voss W Graham, President of InnerActive Consulting Group Inc. forecasted Amazon's rise in B2C and B2B markets in 2014. According to Graham, "This trend is now accelerating as Amazon has announced its intention to supply B2B customers with products previously supplied by local suppliers."
"Today, a customer can go to Amazon, search for a product and get instant data regarding price, availability, customer reviews and delivery choices. Therefore, your strategy must take this competitor into account and its impact on projected growth.
"Choices must be made regarding whether to join forces with Amazon as a supplier or to compete head to head. Competing will mean more transparency with your customer base. And, your marketing strategy must include a plan for your online brand and product presence," he said.
Customers Reward Amazon's Diligence
Amanda Setili, author of The Agility Advantage, How to Identify and Act On Opportunities in a Fast-Changing World, published by Jossey-Bass, says, "For many years, Amazon has put a relentless focus on enhancing the customer experience."
"CEO Jeff Bezos regularly reads customer emails, and expects thousands of Amazon managers, including himself, to attend two days of call-center training each year. This training is just one example of the Amazon mindset around listening to, empathizing with, and understanding the customer.
"It's this customer focus that has allowed the company to create a truly distinctive customer experience, to the point where customers make a habit of checking Amazon first when they buy online. That kind of loyalty is immensely valuable," she said.
Complacency Can Be the Downfall
Garry Patterson is the Atlanta-based FiscalDoctor® who enables growth through leverage you didn't know you have, and he is the author of Million Dollar Blind Spots: 20/20 Vision for Financial Growth www.FiscalDoctor.com. Patterson says as customer service expectations increase, Amazon will leave other businesses "fat, dumb and soon to be unhappy.
"Consider how quickly mega-distributor Blockbuster found a market shortfall, exploited it, and became the industry behemoth. Yet also consider how relatively quickly they got complacent, so that when technology changed again, they became the victim."
Where do you look for risks of changing customer expectations? How do you transform a risk into an opportunity and create a market? "Find your million dollar blind spot before it finds you," says Patterson.
Lesson for Small and Medium Size Businesses
"Mega-distributors are setting the bar high for small/medium enterprise (SME) companies by improving the customer's experience," says Phil Symchych, president of Symco & Co. Management Consultants, located in Regina, Canada. "The Internet has increased competition, converted many high-end goods into commodities, and reduced margins for SMEs. SMEs need to compete locally and globally by using their personalized service and customization features to provide more value to the customer," Symchych stated.
"Amazon is a great company that provides a wonderful model for SMEs to copy and improve upon. For example, can your customers order with one click or one call? Do your sales people make proactive recommendations about what your customer may like and want? Do you proactively provide reviews and testimonials to increase credibility and drive sales?
"Technology isn't just a tool. Every SME can integrate technology into their business strategy to do business globally," Symchych recommends.
The Quest for Great Customer Service
Dr. Maynard Brusman, a consulting psychologist, executive coach, and workplace expert specializing in emotional intelligence and mindfulness-based leadership development www.workingresources.com notes, "To be competitive, create a culture of trust and fully engage your employees. Committed workers produce more, make more money for the company, and create emotional engagement and loyal customers. Online retailer Zappos, the customer service-obsessed company, calls its executives ‘monkeys,' and offers new employees cash to quit as a way to test their loyalty."
According to Dr. Brusman, "Innovative companies find creative ways to manage the flow of information about customers. They incorporate customer preferences in decision-making. They shift the locus of customer-focused efforts away from a centralized hub to a more dispersed set of activities that span the entire enterprise. Mega-distributor companies connect with customers by offering products and services customized to local preferences. Creating a great customer experience and exceeding expectations is the killer app."
Communicate With Customers or Lose Relevance
Lisa Nirell, founder of EnergizeGrowth® LLC and award-winning author of The Mindful Marketer: How to Stay Present and Profitable in a Data-Driven World, is excited by the leveling of the playing field.
"Mega-distributors are guiding business leaders towards the community economy movement," Nirell says. "Thanks to the democratization of data and round-the-clock access to information, your community now calls the shots. Top-down management, which focuses on consistency and stability to drive revenues, is in decline."
"Customers want to be more engaged in product development and problem-solving. They are already in charge of an increasing percentage of the buying process. And they are downright fearless when it comes to sharing what it's like to do business with your company. Amazon and Alibaba prove that point. In the community economy, you either become highly adept at communicating with customers and colleagues at all levels, or you lose market relevance," she adds.
Pay Attention to Customer Needs to Keep Ahead of the Pack
"Two-thirds of manufacturers and distributors feel customer service gaps when compared to Amazon-like offerings," points out Lisa Anderson, known as The Manufacturing ConnectorSM and President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc.., Claremont, CA.
"Service expectations have dramatically increased in the last few years. The vast majority of my clients need to slash lead times by 50% in order to satisfy customer expectations and grow their business."
"Any executive who doesn't want to be left in the dust will pay attention. Customer-friendly websites are a must. E-Commerce is becoming an assumption. Further leveraging technology such as ERP systems and order fulfillment technologies has become commonplace. The bottom line is that you must pay attention to customer needs and be ahead of the pack in fulfilling those needs," Anderson adds.
A Polarizing Effect
According to SAC CEO Alan Weiss, PhD, "Companies like Amazon have a polarizing effect. They attract people who love one-stop shopping and reviews from peers. But they repel people who want personalized service and hands-on help from experts.
"Amazon is exploiting the attraction, but smaller retailers are almost purblind to exploiting the people who are seeking personal help."