Implementing the Digital Customer Experience in the Manufacturing Industry

gettyimages-517665054-compressorRecent research by Gallup found that more than 70% of B2B companies are at risk of losing customers by not fully engaging them. Manufacturers need to move beyond simply selling to their customers to cultivating relationships with them through compelling digital experiences driven by content.

Tom Dougherty, director of user experience at the Delete Agency, told Global Manufacturing that business-focused web platforms need to act as more than a simple online version of a product catalogue. Dougherty said customers are looking to be inspired, influenced, engaged and reassured that it is the right supplier or partner for them. “The right digital presence can say a lot. Even if those customers are other businesses, they’re still people interacting and they need to be connected with,” said Dougherty.

Brian Hartmeann, consultant at McKinsey, said in a public statement that few manufacturers are responding to opportunities and threats presented by the digital revolution. Hartmann said it is “breaching the walls of manufacturing” and will transform every link in the value chain, from research and development to supply chains, sales and service. While some manufacturers are using digital to improve their production, most are not using it to fully engage their customers.

“The right digital presence can say a lot. Even if those customers are other businesses, they’re still people interacting and they need to be connected with.”

McKinsey principal Nicolas Maechler said companies developing strong B2B digital customer experiences are seeing “striking results.” Maechler noted that B2B customer experience index ratings significantly lag behind those of retail companies and that these gaps will grow even larger as expectations continue to rise. Much like consumers, business customers now have the same standards for fast, seamless customer experiences with mobile functionality and real-time responsiveness. Maechler said companies that have undertaken broad transformation in the customer experience process have seen higher client satisfaction scores, reduction in costs, revenue growth and an increase in employee satisfaction. “In our experience, customer-experience leaders in B2B settings have, on average, higher margins than their competitors,” said Maechler.

Complex B2B purchase paths can make it challenging for manufacturers to create a strong digital customer experience. Maechler says companies need to use mapping exercises to truly understand their customers, the purchase process and how they can enhance the experience in each situation. This can mean mapping paths from the sales force and procurement team to R&D teams and manufacturing heads. Companies may also need to split the journey into “standard” and “specialty” tracks to minimize the complexity in meeting the special needs of small percentages of their client base.

Dougherty said manufacturers need to overhaul their customer experience and move from purely specific product-focused models towards more intuitive models. He said immediately reaching for “the first technological online presence to make them appear cutting edge and modern” isn’t always the best approach. Manufacturers need to implement a digital customer experience that starts with understanding customers, addressing their needs and putting them at the forefront of transformation of the online presence. “Otherwise, you could be overcomplicating their experience of you – essentially making it much harder to sell,” he said.

A report by Oracle said that while content is an essential part of the buyer’s journey, it is only relevant when customers and context are brought into the equation. The report said customers want “rich content in the context of where they are in the buying cycle” and that they want to be inspired in new ways. Oracle said both B2C and B2B are in an environment where marketing and commerce is colliding.

Dougherty said manufacturers may find it harder to compete as the retention of existing clients becomes just as important as acquiring new ones. He said relying on the strength of product design and competitive pricing is “no longer enough.” “[Manufacturers] need to view the world through the lens of their customers and prioritize the customer experience,” said Dougherty.

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Craig Guillot
Craig Guillot is a business writer based in New Orleans, La. His work has appeared in Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, CNNMoney.com and CNBC.com. You can read more about his work at www.craigdguillot.com.

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