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How to create a frictionless customer experience without losing the human touch

Sep 26, 2021

In manufacturing, the customer experience is rapidly becoming just as influential in the buyer journey as the quality and pricing of the actual products. The reason why can be traced directly to the retail sector. Efforts by retailers, particularly e-commerce giants, to build and cement brand loyalty by catering to consumer needs is influencing B2B customer expectations.

It's no wonder, then, that B2B customers expect the same frictionless customer experience from their manufacturing partners and vendors.

Why is a frictionless customer experience important?

The challenge is that many shop floors were not designed for the digital era. Manufacturers cannot simply overlay existing processes within each department with digital tools and expect the result to be a cohesive end-to-end experience for customers. The information and process are traditionally too siloed or nonexistent for that to occur spontaneously.

The key to creating a frictionless digital customer experience for manufacturing is to purposely design it to be a cross-departmental flow, and then adopt the right digital tools, in the right places, without losing the human component.

Customers want the convenience that digital capabilities offer: on-demand access to timely and relevant information, and a heavy dose of self-service functionality. But they also want easier ways to reach the organization and be reached back to. They want to connect with the human component for guidance, issues, clarifications or even empathy. Getting this right will require a marriage between digital, business process, organizational tribal knowledge and industrial internet of things (IIoT) capabilities.

Breaking through sources of friction

Sources of friction abound in the bulk of business interactions experienced by customers and internal staff from lead to quote to build to pay. They are a natural condition of siloed departments.

Outdated websites, inaccurate inventory and a lack of visibility are all sources of friction. Requiring customers to complete every transaction over the phone or across multiple applications creates friction. Expecting customers to speak to multiple representatives or to wait days for an answer to straightforward questions causes friction.

If these sources of friction are not corrected, customers will drift to competitors that offer a better experience.

At its heart, creating a frictionless experience is about making it easier for customers to do business with you and for your employees to do business for you; they are inseparable. Think of this in terms of providing customers and employees with:

  • Self-service tools to research products and terms, request a quote, make a purchase and find answers to basic questions.
  • Accurate order fulfillment and billing capabilities.
  • On-demand answers for order history, production schedules, shipments and supplies.
  • Workflows, pricing and payment methods that are appropriate for the type of buyer engaged.
  • After-market capabilities that make it easy to handle returns, troubleshoot issues or request servicing.

The more investments that manufacturers make in the customer experience, the more opportunities they have to strengthen relationships. By anticipating customer needs, they can provide targeted solutions at every step in the customer journey — whether from a chatbot or a member of the sales team. There is also greater potential for revenue growth by uncovering new opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell services and products.

Mapping the frictionless customer experience

Creating a good customer experience starts with mapping the customer journey beyond how we market to attract new customers.

Consider questions like: How do products flow through the shop? How does information flow? What are the likely entry points for customer engagement? What are the current obstacles clients experience and when?

Our experience has shown that leaders need to physically walk the floor, follow the flow of information and steps that a customer would need to experience, and engage all areas of the business — from sales and accounting to customer service and manufacturing to warehouse and shipping. At each interaction point, they need to ask:

  • What outcome is our customer seeking at this step?
  • What outcome does our organization want for itself?
  • What role does my team play in creating this outcome?
  • What are the best action(s) to create that outcome?
  • What are the best tools to support those actions?

Often, this exercise will reveal hidden bottlenecks, workarounds, information barriers and other sources of friction. It will also provide a foundation for targeted improvements and more informed conversations.

The more connectivity you have on the shop floor, as well as between the shop floor and the rest of the operations, the better you’re able to capture real-time information on inventory and product flow. Having this data on hand will empower staff to better respond to customers when they want or need to speak with a person.

The benefits extend well beyond the customer experience. Automation, analytics, IoT technologies and a host of other tools can support the desired experience, streamline operations, optimize processes, reduce costs and improve quality control.

Moving people into more strategic roles

Digital transformation does not necessarily replace the need for people. This is especially true for manufacturers that want to provide a high-touch experience for customers. However, it will require different skillsets and expertise. Given the rapid pace of technology evolution, the manufacturing 4.0 workforce needs to be both resilient and digitally fluent.

Manufacturers may need to invest in reskilling or upskilling employees or in expanding the number of engineers on staff. They may also need to shore up their customer support staff with specialists who are educated and empowered to respond to customer issues. Transitioning existing staff to new, technical and/or customer-facing roles could enable manufacturers to up their game without adding to payroll.

Employees who embrace continuous learning and thrive on solving challenges may find greater job satisfaction. Instead of engaging in repetitive tasks or time-consuming workarounds, employees can focus on managing exceptions and troubleshooting issues.

Wipfli can help you bridge the digital divide

Just like the product design process, developing a streamlined, frictionless experience is an iterative effort. Fortunately, there are experts to provide guidance. At Wipfli, we help manufacturers of all sizes strategically rethink their operations and manage digital transformation. Our manufacturing and distribution specialists will provide you with the solutions, resources and insight you need to survive and thrive no matter what the future holds.

Learn about how Wipfli can help you create a digital frictionless customer experience that gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Next up, we explore how manufacturers can embrace innovation with limited resources. Don’t miss out on that and our other thought-provoking articles just for manufacturing leaders. Sign up using the form on the righthand side of this page to receive articles and our manufacturing newsletter directly in your inbox.

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Luis J. Murgas
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