Ecommerce hasn’t ended human service demand: RBC

Posted on April 24, 2023 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments


Small businesses may feel like they’re being torn in two different directions these days, with pressure to build their ecommerce sales while, at the same time, meeting customer service expectations.

The push to online sales remains a theme. In late March, for example, direct-to-consumer giant ESW looked at it through demographics. The company declared millennial consumers not only prefer online shopping but will collectively lead ecommerce spending this year.

“Millennials’ spending power has grown to $2.5 trillion (…) They are spending more online than in-store across several categories, and these results indicate that brands must continue to evolve, improve and optimize their ecommerce to attract and retain this increasingly powerful demographic,” said ESW Americas president and CEO Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne in a press release. The release included results from an ESW-backed consumer survey involving participants in 16 countries, including Canada.

But nudges like this one come alongside the results of the latest RBC Small Business Poll, released this month, looking at consumers’ digital and human experiences. The results are a reminder that companies still need to keep up person-to-person customer service.

The RBC polling was conducted by Ipsos Canada from Feb. 17-22, 2023 and involved 1,505 surveys online. More than half of the self-identified millennials responding (55%) and two-thirds (66%) of Gen Z respondents said they would prefer more digital interactions in their shopping experience. However, a full 84% of the millennials and nearly three-quarters of Gen Z respondents (74%) also wanted a more human touch in response to customer issues and queries.

Vice president of Small Business Partnerships and Strategy for RBC, Don Ludlow says it suggests people want to be able to move quickly and efficiently along in their day, but also connect with businesses as needed. It shows value in having more human experience available in those moments.


Don Ludlow, RBC vice president of Small Business Partnerships and Strategy


For small businesses, it leaves the question of where to spend time and money: how much to put on advancing ecommerce platforms and tools for basic transactions versus adding and training people to meet customer service demands. “I think maybe it’s finding the right balancing act and probably a bit of trial and error,” Ludlow said.

As a starting point, he suggested, it’s good to identify when you need those moments of in-person service. When do your customers need to connect?

Larger corporations have been doing the same kind of evaluations, he said. Banks like RBC are trying to rapidly digitize some areas, “where customers are telling us they’re seeking that.”

Customers don’t want to have to wait in a line to pay bills, deposit a cheque or move money around, for instance. And yet, they do often want to be able to sit down and talk directly to someone if they’re getting a house, making investments or have a financial problem.

“That’s in banking and financial services where there are some intensely personal and important moments of truth in someone’s life, and then there’s a lot of transactions where it’s just, ‘hey, I just need to get this done quickly and securely and effectively,’” he said.

“A small business owner, I think, has to kind of go down the same path to say what are those things where my customers are just looking for speed and simplicity and reliability, like paying for something, and then (alternatively) what if what I’ve bought is broken, or it doesn’t fit, or I can’t figure out how to use it? Well, maybe it’s not all a digital solution there. Maybe that’s where you do invest in people,” he said.

“It’s interesting days for small businesses.” Ludlow said. “I think digital and the technology has made it so that a small business can in many ways get some of the benefits that only large companies used to get through investing in technology. So much of that is now accessible to small businesses, it’s really exciting times. Continuing to invest in that and invest in the people part of their business… They kind of have to do both, and it’s finding the right balance.”

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