Dawood Pervez: People buy from people… or do they?
Dawood Pervez, Chair of FWD, considers the opportunities posed by the latest technologies and AI
The wholesale sector, traditionally reliant on person-to-person interaction, is starting to wake up to the benefits posed by technology and generative artificial intelligence (AI). Across industries, it’s estimated that with the pandemic acting as a catalyst, the application and adoption of technology accelerated a decade in just four years. We all see it in our day-to-day lives with virtual meetings, buying goods with just two clicks 24/7/365, and push marketing, all based on our online behaviours.
And for our industry, which has perhaps been a more cautious adopter of digital advancement against our retail friends, we are now seeing the value of e-commerce platforms, customer relationship management (CRM) and generative AI, all giving us the potential to reshape the sector.
Technology is increasingly being seen by FWD members as having the potential to drive business growth, deliver service enhancement and operational efficiency while enabling customers to buy what they want, when they want and in the way they want.
With a few clicks, customers can place orders, track deliveries and access product information that is based on their historical purchasing legacy. Suppliers can enjoy visibility of their lines and offers, enabling them to close gaps swiftly.
But will the evolution of tech reduce our industry’s reliance on in-person interactions and telephone-based sales? A recent report by IGD reported that telesales teams have reduced by around 25% in the last five years due to web engagement. Is this erosion of human capital the tip of a much bigger iceberg?
While technology has the power to reshape our industry, it’s essential to recognise that the customer remains at the heart of all our operations. In fact, the more technology evolves the more critical customer centricity becomes.
I’m often asked how tech can replace a one-to-one relationship that has evolved, sometimes over many years, based on trust, knowledge and confidence. And, of course, it can’t, but it does have the potential to enhance it.
AI already has the capability to drive product recommendations and can suggest products based on past browsing and purchasing behaviours, and deliver demand forecasting. By analysing vast datasets, AI can provide valuable insight into customer preferences and market trends, which can help us – and our suppliers – all make data-driven decisions. It can give power back to the wholesaler to provide highly personalised experiences and enhance customer satisfaction and drive loyalty.
For catering telesales teams, AI can give them the potential to get closer to the customer. CRM systems integrated with AI can analyse customer interactions and provide insights into better communication. Customer needs can be anticipated and solutions proactively offered. It’s fair to say that data-driven decision-making has the potential to become an essential management skill for staying ahead and remaining competitive in our industry.
While there is no silver bullet, the race is certainly on. Wholesale is continuing to evolve and unlocking the digital opportunity, and the wholesalers that will get ahead are those investing in technological advancement. Yes, there will be lots of cost and pitfalls in execution, but there is no question that the prize is there for the taking.
Personally, I hope we never lose that personal touch. Businesses don’t always get it right. How many of us have experienced immense frustration while navigating an irrelevant chat-bot or holding for 40 minutes to speak to an actual person. To me, that’s not putting the customer at the heart of your operation.
People will always buy from people, so let’s use technology in the right way to augment our skills and expertise, not circumvent them.
Categories Thought leadership