Customer self-service: What’s the value for the Marina & Harbour Industry?

Self-service through connected devices has completely revolutionised many industries and has driven significant business value in terms of reduced cost, increased efficiencies and increased revenue. Marinas and Harbours have traditionally remained more “manual” but there remains a huge amount of value being left on the table by Harbours and Marinas who don’t adopt self-service tools.

The introduction of the iPhone was revolutionary, not simply as it was the first “gadget” of its kind, but how its introduction started a chain of events that fundamentally and permanently changed how customers expect to be able to interact with Organisations.

Prior to ubiquitous access to the web on mobile devices, every Marina or Harbour customer interaction would broadly follow the same flow:

  1. Customer picks up the phone, writes a letter, or walks into the Office.
  2. A member of staff looks up information about the Customer’s account on software installed on their PC, clicks some buttons, enters some information and confirms their actions back to the customer.
  3. The Interaction is completed.

There are a few characteristics of this type of interaction that need attention.

  • A member of your team must be personally involved during every minute of this interaction. As a result, there is an unavoidable interaction-handling ceiling which ultimately limits your business; there must always be a team-member available to perform “your side” of the interaction.
  • The interaction is supply-driven (i.e. it can only take place when you have your team-member available or the office is open), not demand-driven (when the customer wants to deal with you). In addition, the business process shows low elasticity to meet that demand, (in real-world speak this means If a team-member isn’t immediately available, the customer has to wait). As we all know, customers don’t turn up in a predictable steady stream; on a sunny August bank holiday weekend, a Marina manager needs to scale the team appropriately.

As a result of the smart-phone & “always-on” web-access, these limitations become more glaring to the customer than they ever were; they used to be an accepted “part of life” but now consumers expect to be able to bypass this type of time-wasting and “Do It Themselves” online without ever speaking to anyone or even leaving their vessel.

The good news is that with today’s technology, and consumer comfort with using self-service tools, marinas & harbours now have the ability to serve more customers, more efficiently and with less cost.

We frequently come across some common myths that play-down the importance of allowing customers to self-serve using connected devices:

“Our customers want to speak to us, and don’t want to deal with a faceless organisation”. Whilst this will be true for some customers, it’s an unavoidable truth that some of your customers don’t want to speak to you. Research shows that 48% of consumers would rather perform a transaction online than talk to a person. For those that do want to use online services, it makes sense to provide it, so you can focus valuable resources & time on those that do want the face-to-face contact.

“Demand for Online services have reached their peak, and we don’t think it’s enough to warrant any change”. Online banking is (2015) seeing 300% year on year growth in demand for services.

“Most of our customers are of an age where they won’t use online services”. The average boat owner is 59.4 years old. Barclays bank latest research shows that users over 80 year-olds use online services just as much as 30-40 year-olds. Nearly 1% of users over 80 years old use their online banking service every day.

Like it or not, some of your customers now expect to be able to serve themselves via online payment & account portals. For the first time in history, some Customers would rather deal with your organisation online than speak to one of your team & this proportion of your customer base will grow every year.

Further to this, this journey is in its infancy.  We’re investing heavily in providing “conversational” tools to allow customers to serve themselves, ask questions, get pricing & marina information via any customer touch-point; i.e. your website, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook.  We are using cutting edge Artificial Intelligence platforms to power this capability.  You will always be able to talk to the customers that want to, but the tide is changing and we intend to give all our customers the tools to cope with it.

This tidal change provides a huge opportunity to gain a competitive edge; when a boat owner is considering whether to visit your Marina or the one slightly further along the coast/channel, if they can pay online via a few taps of their iPhone when visiting you, whilst everyone else expects them have to moor-up, perhaps take their tender to the pontoon, walk into the office and pay in person, which one do you think they will choose?

On top of this, we’ve gathered some interesting stats from our experience of running electronic invoicing programmes.

1.      Once a customer has paid online once, 90% of them will continue to pay online for all subsequent transactions. i.e. every marginal increase in driving a customer to pay online is an ongoing efficiency saving. In Harbour Assist, online payments are immediately reconciled against their account and their balance immediately adjusted with no human involvement.

2.      When our Clients dispatch Invoices by Email, 60% more people pay online than if you post the Invoice. There is a strong “I may as well do it now” behaviour when a customer receives an electronic invoice. A recent Harbour Assist customer collected 30% of their annual renewals in the first week after their invoice email dispatch. A well-worded call-to-action for their customers to pay online and a direct link to the payment portal worked wonders.

Harbour Assist is the only cloud-based solution available today that can turn this seismic shift in consumer expectations into increased customer satisfaction, cost efficiencies and revenue.