Business model

Are clients moving to the web, lock, stock and barrel?

Mati Nõmmiste Mati Nõmmiste

The sharing economy is on the ascendant in the business world. Examples of this business model, where companies and individuals share online access to goods and services, include Uber and Airbnb. The sharing economyis growingat an impressive clip, and that means that business is moving from the B2B sector to B2C, too.

If your company is to succeed at B2B business, you should consider why a customer should prefer your traditional business service/product, if they have a wide selection of alternatives just a few swipes or clicks away? For example, the US-based Liquid Space specialises in leasing out office space in an untraditional way. It has an interface for renting out office and conference rooms that have a temporary opening. If you’re a company and know that three of your employees will be on holiday the next week, you can rent out their cubicles or desks using LiquidSpace. If you use a larger conference room only once a week, you can rent it out on the rest of the days. The brokers and tenants meet up via the LiquidSpace site. The lease agreements are signed there and the LiquidSpace team deals with the business and payment end.

Online lawyers

Other service sector companies have also realized that supplying services online and automating them as much as possible (i.e. one service for all, not tailored service) is a good way of drawing customers. For example, one US law office set up a site at shakelaw.com offering standardized contact templates (contracts of sale, loan agreements, leases, employment contracts) made for the needs of individuals and SMEs. Customers just have to fill in a few blanks and the contract can be sent to the partner for signing using an app. A business opportunity lies in the enhancements offered for a service fee: for instance, a customer can customize the contracts with corporate logos and the like, create their own custom contract forms, and so on.

Customer habits have changed

But why should a company – such as the aforementioned law office – automate its services? There can be several reasons. There’s nothing unusual in a DIY approach for people who are used to doing everything online constantly. Often we don’t even ask a travel agent to plan our trip – we book our own airfare and hotels online. The DIY trend is making inroads into other sectors. Second, automating simpler services is cheaper in the long run, as the company can then focus on supplying more costly, higher-value-added yielding services.

Supplying web-based services is naturally associated with risks, the biggest of which is security and privacy. From the perspective of the company, one solution is to ask for a credit card to secure the service. From the customer’s point of view, it’s good to be able to rate the service (such as Uber taxi drivers). Keeping data and data processing secure is also of key importance from both sides. Just a few months ago, of course, hackers broke into Ashley Madison and gained access to millions of users’ data.

Considering that customer behaviour has changed completely in a few decades and they now expect companies to provide simple and flexible services that could easily be purchased online, companies should really think about automating their services.