Do your customers expect online credit tools?

Here’s what you should be providing and why

For customers of independent building material dealers, there is a surprising lack of quality, online credit tools available to them.

Why are online tools even needed?  Today’s customers – young and old, but especially millennials – expect online tools for in-house account origination and easy management once an account has been opened.  After all, these same customers are using online financial management tools for their banking or to manage their credit cards.  Why should their building material dealer offer anything less?

graphic of a monitor showing "online bill pay"

What’s more, experiences outside of our industry are having an outsized influence on expectations.  Some consumer-advocate experts point out that we are now living in the Uber economy, and that the seamless, transactional ease that apps like Uber offer, have raised the bar in terms of what’s considered the norm.  Frankly, in the consumer’s eyes — yes, even contractor customers — these online tools are no longer nice to haves.  They are must haves.

Are you getting bested by the big boxes?

If you’re a dealer who is lacking customer-facing, web-based access to your in-house accounts and credit programs, you are likely getting bested by the big boxes or more savvy independent dealers, who are increasingly offering these capabilities.

What is expected today?  Your customers should be able to check their in-house accounts, apply for credit and credit line extensions, and make payments.  New customers should be able to apply for a new in-house account and – for sophisticated operations – even receive automated decisions, if certain parameters are met.  (See sidebar below.)

graphic showing examples of online bill payThink of your own customer experiences with sites for Visa, American Express, or online banking.  Sophisticated – and often automated – customer-service tools are available at the click of a mouse, e.g. sortable presentations of bills, automated generation of statements, a chance to contest charges, search-ability of records, and various types of authorization.  Are you offering them today?  This is a clear point of competitive differentiation.

Decisioning tools

Contractors aren’t the only ones to benefit from online tools. There are decision-making tools that give dealers 24/7 insights into customer buying and payment activities. This transparency allows dealers to make judgment calls on whether to increase credit, move a sinking account to COD, or even turn off/restore in-house credit accounts entirely.

Online tools for dealers can also uncover cross-selling opportunities.  Why shouldn’t an order for trusses and a framing package be followed (with appropriate lead times) by an alert for your salesman to be selling sheathing, shingles, and housewrap, followed by windows, siding and doors, etc.?

You can implement these online tools for your staff and your customers by hiring a web developer or tasking an existing IT resource to help. If they don’t have the time or expertise, consider a credit management provider, such as BlueTarp, which offers online tools for both dealers and contractors. Contractors can pay online, track available credit and review what they’ve purchased by SKU, PO, purchaser or delivery location. Dealers are given a set of tools that provide 24/7 insight into their customers’ purchase and payment behavior as well as the status of their BlueTarp payments.    

Make no mistake, customers’ expectations are changing at an unprecedented rate. Whether building material dealers like it or not, expectations for online financial tools are being demanded by people who have benefited from them in other sectors. Isn’t it time we catch up?

What kind of online capabilities should dealers be offering their customers? Here’s a list of baseline features.

  • Automatic payment set-up and one-time payments by invoice, statement or partial payments
  • Downloadable statements and invoices
  • Automatic due date reminders and electronic statements
  • Online application for credit, with instant decisions
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