Compared to other industries, the manufacturing sector has been slow to undertake the digital transformation journey. That is changing fast as Industry 4.0-enabled technologies become more prevalent, accessible and affordable.
But game-changing innovation isn’t limited to the headline-generating technologies like augmented reality, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). It can also be found in capabilities and business process improvements that enable manufacturers to build an innovative customer experience. Manufacturers that get this right will gain a strategic advantage that will offer a measure of protection against disruption while also bringing new revenue opportunities to light.
“Getting this right” are the key words here. To be exceptional, the customer experience needs to be evaluated and designed into every step of the customer journey and supported by the right tools and the right people in the right places. Investing heavily in front-end marketing and e-commerce functions may win over new business. But if these investments are made at the expense of customer care after the point of purchase, manufacturers will lose out on opportunities to build loyalty and develop new revenue streams.
For this reason, manufacturers need to invest in technologies that make it easier to do business with you and for you. These technologies and capabilities will not all be flashy, but they are essential to delivering a world-class experience at every point of interaction.
Sales and ordering
Sales and ordering functions are the most obvious places to invest in the customer experience because these are areas where direct customer interaction occurs. Customers want greater autonomy to research, purchase and track their orders. And when they can’t find the answers they need on their own, they expect a rapid and informed response.
At the most basic level, manufacturers need to invest in a digital platform that empowers customers to perform multiple functions with consistency across devices. Integrating an e-commerce function with your enterprise resource planning tool to provide real- or near-real-time access to inventory, availability, costs and more will provide customers with the ability to place orders at a time that suits them.
After getting these foundational components in place, manufacturers can explore the deployment of other innovative capabilities, such as using AI to provide guidance to and shape recommendations for customers.
Combining intuitive self-service tools with real-time data is a necessary first step to satisfy customer expectations for 24/7 responsiveness. But it will also enable your team to provide a higher level of personal service to customers. Instead of responding to routine questions or processing new orders, sales personnel can create more value by focusing on business development, high-touch follow up, exceptions management and complicated, customized requests. As an added bonus, manufacturers will reduce the potential for errors and delays in the ordering process — leading to higher customer satisfaction.
Installation and service
Satisfaction drops significantly when customers feel that their time is being wasted. Operations that rely on a patchwork of stand-alone applications, incompatible platforms, manual processes and tribal knowledge result in information silos, production delays and an incomplete picture of scheduling and capacity.
Making it easier to do business with you is predicated on making it easier for your employees to support your customers — to do business for you. This is particularly true during installation and servicing, when customers are more likely to require coaching or in-depth assistance with installation, configuration and troubleshooting of new products or equipment.
What does this look like in practice? Think accurate estimates and open information flow for order status and delivery. Field staff that have access to both up-to-date customer and product information at their fingertips. And a customer service function that can quickly and efficiently respond to customer requests across multiple channels, including chatbots, live chat, email and telephone.
Consolidating customer information into a single source of truth will ensure all employees are working with the same set of customer data — from order history to servicing needs to call logs — whenever an issue arises.
We’ve talked about investing in boosting customer interaction and empowering employees. With these components in place, manufacturers can unlock new revenue streams in the aftermarket by transforming data into value for their business and their customers.
Industrial internet of things (IIoT) capabilities and analytics can provide new-found visibility into how customers use their products or equipment. Manufacturers can use the data from connected assets to offer targeted education and preventive maintenance services. They can improve how they forecast demand for supplies and parts to reduce production delays and ensure customers have what they need, exactly when they need it. And they may even uncover novel opportunities or help customers optimize their operations, improve their uptime and reduce production costs.
When the right tools are in place, every interaction and every data point becomes an opportunity to engage your business differently in the success of your customers. By following this path, manufacturers will naturally begin the shift from producing products to offering solutions that that drive greater value into their customers’ business.
Where to start
Investing in a better end-to-end customer experience will create opportunities for sustained, continuous interactions, greater profitability and more resilience against market disruptors.
But first, you need to identify what your customers need and what they value. Technology itself should not be the primary driver. If your goal is to develop a customer experience that provides a strategic advantage, then your strategic plan, technology investments and business process improvements must be built around this objective.
Using design-led thinking to optimize the customer experience across both physical and digital worlds will lead to measurably better outcomes across the enterprise. Manufacturers that do this right can anticipate reduced costs, improved quality, greater profitability and even higher employee engagement. More important, building a superior customer experience that marries digital technology with personalized service will be the deciding factor between surviving, thriving, and closing up shop in the coming decade.
Wipfli can help you map the process, prioritize investments and put a strategy in place to create process improvements that stick. Our manufacturing and distribution specialists will provide you with the solutions, resources and insight you need to navigate innovation with confidence. Click here to learn more.
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