Virtual Showrooms: The Future of Customer Interaction?

Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes. Arguably, this has never been truer than in current times, as the world perseveres through the global Covid-19 pandemic. Personal and work patterns have changed dramatically and the traditional parameters that we’re used to operating within have shifted. Where business (especially new business) was often previously based on face-to-face meetings or engagement at major tradeshows such as CES and Electronica, reduced or cancelled travel options mean that we are all embracing new means of communication. There is a fast-growing shift from face-to-face ‘analogue’ interaction to digital engagement, as Digital Transformation takes hold.

The so-called ‘road warriors’, or as we call ourselves in Asia ‘astronauts’ (always in the air), of the business world have had to adapt routines and practices, with virtual meeting platforms now the norm. However, the huge reliance upon platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and for China, Tencent, has created a challenge. How can you both talk to a customer and demonstrate value as well?

Companies have always had to have the ability to transform, adapt and remain relevant to their customers, and today this means a willingness to reach out in ways that may not have been possible in the past. The sales channel, for example, has had to adapt quickly to the ‘new norm’; where a company would typically invite a prospect to its factory, facility or trade show to meet face-to-face, these meetings may not currently be possible. Companies such as Molex adapted quickly, conceiving and implementing digital solutions such as the ‘virtual showroom’ concept that has quickly proved successful in maintaining contact with key prospects and customers alike. Customer service is at the heart of such digital innovations and transformations, and excitingly the possibilities are limitless.  

Initially conceived in Asia as a way to enhance engagement with its existing and future customers, Molex pushed its virtual showroom platform up the agenda when Covid-19 started to take hold. We launched the bi-lingual platform with an initial focus on the Automotive sector, covering ‘Autonomous Driving’, New Energy Vehicles’ and ‘Electrical/Electronic Architecture’, and providing access to key information in these fast-growing segments to users across Greater China and the Asean region.

After going live and quickly gaining traction, the feedback from customers was enthusiastic and positive, with a significant number of new contacts and business opportunities arising. From a sales channel viewpoint, it represents an efficient way to communicate with customers of all shapes and sizes.

Other sectors to be addressed within the virtual showroom will be Data/Telecom. Key areas of focus include 5G base station solutions, the enterprise network and data center including rack server, blade server, storage, access point, switches and routers, AAU, BBU, 5G small cell, etc. This will be followed by Consumer/ IoT, both due to go live in 2021.

While the resources that are currently available include webinars, interactive fly-through demonstrations, and application examples, the ability to track online behavior means that such virtual resources can be tweaked, updated, modified and improved on an ongoing basis. Better insight into and understanding of customer needs, derived from data sources such as IoT for example, means that companies can adjust their product offerings accordingly, as well as introduce new products and services to cater to a broader audience.

Powerfully, such transformative digital tools have an upstream effect on a company’s operations also. To focus on analytics and synthesize large volumes of business data in areas such as marketing and feeding this back into product design ensures that the impact of virtual interaction is felt across the board.

A positive ‘customer experience’ could be positioned as the panacea for all companies’ outward-facing interactions, and this virtual showroom concept is a proof-point of how Digital Transformation can shape the way in which companies interact with their customers, partners and prospects. Yes, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, but the concept has already demonstrated huge potential as a tool for future customer interaction.

Molex is already using its webinar and virtual showroom concepts, with tools like tear-down animations, interactive fly-through demonstrations, and application examples, for discussion with our customers. Recently this has been made easier with mobile accessibility. By capitalizing on new sources of digital data in this way, businesses can gain deeper insights into customer behavior and tailor their customer experiences accordingly through advanced personalization and increased accessibility.

While advances in digital technologies continue to make the world a smaller place in which to do business, nonetheless a geographical outlook reveals some notable differences in how Digital Transformation is shaping up in different parts of the world. In China, for example, the Government has plans to invest US$1.4 trillion over the next six years into its digital economy to accelerate the development of digital technologies such as 5G wireless networks and AI. Tech giants Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings offer cloud computing and data analysis-driven solutions to help build an extensive digital infrastructure in China, while Huawei continues to develop 5G network infrastructure and 5G- and IoT-powered development projects.

Chinese businesses are expected to spend up to US$1 trillion in Digital Transformation in the next three years, and initiatives such as the virtual showroom implemented by Molex are good examples of mutual benefit. Operational efficiencies, improved customer experience, improved manufacturing flexibility, quality and speed, energy saving, and new business opportunities, as well as risk mitigation are vital reasons why companies such as Molex are embracing Digital Transformation.

The customer bottom-line for any Digital Transformation initiative has to be “What’s in it for me?” In that regard, if companies can embrace Digital Transformation to adapt to shifting demands, transform how they interact with their customers, and implement change seamlessly, they can quantifiably increase their chances of future success in a rapidly changing world.

Vice President of Sales for Asia Pacific South