Digital customer relationship: myths and realities

« Digitalisation » seems to have become the Grail of a company’s efficient management. There is not a single corporate conference without this theme being mentioned. Studies are even warning on how French companies are falling behind, especially French SMBs (*). But what’s the actual situation? Which are the true risks of not following that trend? And on the contrary, what are the (numerous) pitfalls into which some companies are falling?


To start with, it is clear that information technologies do allow companies to offer new services to customers:

  • A 24/7 availability of up to date information, whether it is general information (access to catalogues of products and services), or a more specific one (tracking of a claim settlement for example),
  • A permanent access to simple transactions (opening a savings account online for example),
  • The capacity to act without having to be behind a computer thanks to an ever-growing number of mobile apps…


Being the first to offer that kind of service is not an absolute necessity in itself. The real issue is that some of these services are increasingly considered as belonging to the market’s standard offering, just like the fact that an air-conditioning unit falls within the basic equipment of a car, whereas, in the past, it was a costly option. Thus, a company not able to provide this standard offering is bound to face challenges. In B2B, some clients do not understand that they cannot benefit from the same type of services from their professional providers as they do with their personal ones.


Beyond these « standard » services that companies are increasingly expected to provide, information technologies allow to offer innovative, game-changing services that can potentially disrupt all industries. Let’s name 2 examples:


About 15 years ago, a worldwide hotel group created an online tool enabling to book rooms in one of its hotels, anywhere in the world. While it was praiseworthy, the idea was not developed enough. A few years later, the Dutch company, without owning a single hotel, offered an online booking tool…virtually giving access to a worldwide offering for hotel booking. Customers promptly dropped using the hotel group’s booking service for the one of its new competitor.


In a world of industrial waste recycling, a new player is getting ready to offer online an overview of the recycling market offerings and will intend to advise companies on the best pathways of the moment to fulfil their specific needs. Traditional recycling players are likely to be losing the direct relationship with their clients in favour of this new intermediary as well as precious margin points. This risk exists for almost every sector. It is called the risk of “Uberisation”.


On the contrary, relationship digitalisation is often an excuse to reduce costs and is not sufficiently understood from the end-customer’s stand point. Thus, when the customer wants to communicate about an important topic for him or her, with someone who takes the time to listen to him and to advise him, he has a harder and harder time to do so. Too often, he is confronted with a “digital wall”. The banking world, after being significantly impacted with the decrease of interest rates, found in relationship digitalisation an opportunity to reduce the number of agencies and advisers, the latter dealing with larger and larger areas.


In a nutshell, there are substantial challenges in the digitalisation of the economy: opportunities to provide new services which in turn will quickly become the norm and the possibility to reposition the company on the market it operates in to offer greater value. But digitalisation used as a mere productivity tool can lead to counter-productive results if human beings do not remain present in some key moments of the customer relationship.


Serge Rouvière


« Culture client, l’ultime différenciation entre les entreprises » (Customer orientation, the ultimate differentiation between companies) published by Maxima, 2017 Performance Quality prize


(*) 2017 Deloitte Report on the digitalisation of companies, ordered by Facebook, entitled « Économie numérique : le digital, une opportunité pour les PME françaises » (Digital economy: an opportunity for French SMBs).