Embracing Technology to Decrease Customer Effort

Often thought of as the slow-moving giants of the business world, industrial manufacturers have paved the way for much of the connected business operations we embrace today. In the 1800s, water and steam powered machines aided workers and gave birth to Industry 1.0.

During Industry 2.0, as electricity became the primary source of power, water and steam powered machines were replaced by electric machines. Industry 2.0 also gave rise to a number of management systems that increased the efficiency and effectiveness of industrial manufacturing.

The invention and implementation of transistors and integrated circuit chips made it possible to fully automate individual machines to supplement or replace workers and spur Industry 3.0. This period has also seen the development of software systems that integrate planning, scheduling, and tracking with product flows throughout the factory.

Now, Industry 4.0 is taking connectedness a step further with the integration of the machines on the manufacturing floor to computers distributed throughout the various business units in the organization. When fully integrated, orders placed by customers launch orders to vendors; deliveries are tracked while in route, and products in the field send performance data back to product designers.

While achieving the point of total connectedness is complex, the industrial manufacturing industry has proven that it is up to the task. According to a report produced by Automation Alley, 85 percent of national manufacturing executives report that they plan to increase existing budgets for technological advances. Accenture found that 94 percent of surveyed industrial companies believe that digital technologies and Industry 4.0 will radically change the way they operate.

Embracing technology goes beyond the manufacturing floor; it also includes using technical solutions to improve the customer experience. Historically, B2B sales placed little emphasis on the experience of the customer, competing instead on price and product availability. However, the tide has changed, and customer experience in B2B has become just as crucial as in B2C channels.

Eighty-nine percent of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience. – Gartner

Where to Begin

Many industrial customers expect B2B buying experiences that meet B2C standards. B2C online product catalogs are thoughtfully curated to answer anticipated questions and create an experience in which the buyer begins to imagine him or herself using and owning the product before deciding to buy.

Once the decision to buy is made, optimized B2C checkout processes present minimal barriers. eCommerce sites have learned, through trial and error and research, how the online sales process can go awry and have developed fixes. Applying these principles to the B2B space allows industrial manufacturers to improve the customer experience by capitalizing on the learnings of their B2C counterparts.

Only 23 percent of B2B marketers claim to have a customer-centric organizational structure. – Forrester

Evaluate Your Product Catalog

Many industrial manufacturers produce hundreds or even thousands of products – which makes maintaining an active, accurate online catalog challenging. However, getting this fundamental information right is essential. Step back and look at your online catalog through the lens of your customer. What type of terminology is used? Is it too technical? Is it the language of your customer? How is the product described? Does the description answer questions that your customers often pose via phone calls or emails? The goal is to provide enough information to enable most of your customers to make a buying decision without requiring another contact but not to bury the buyer in unnecessary details. Too much or too little data are both equally detrimental. Customers do not want to sift through pages of technical attributes before deciding to buy.

Use a consistent taxonomy to categorize products within your online catalog. If dimensions are presented in a tabular format for one product, the same should be true for all products. Maintaining consistency in product descriptions makes it easier for your customers to understand the data and make buying decisions.

Data is becoming the new raw material of business. – Craig Mundie

Prepare for Data Driven Decision Making

Industry 4.0 champions the ability of companies to capture and analyze customer and product data. When customer data is managed consistently (both over time and in format) it can be used to model customer behaviors, predict product demands, develop marketing materials, and create customer-centric processes.

To begin capturing data consistently, utilize existing ERP systems to categorize and store invoice and order data. Ensure that information is populated consistently and accurately so that subsequent analyses are reliable. House notes, activities, and communications in a CRM. An accurate breadcrumb trail allows anyone within the organization to pick-up a customer relationship where it last left off and provide a consistent and efficient experience.

For manufacturing executives, investment in data and analytics is one of the top three ways seen as required to improve competitiveness. In addition to providing valuable customer insight, data and analytics can be used to analyze manufacturing processes to improve yield, decrease waste, and improve quality.

Many companies have become stuck in decades-old practices that fail to take advantage of advanced digital technology now available. – Travis Hesketh

Find the ROI in Tech

Often, the ROI of technology investments cannot be measured traditionally. The value of a more satisfied customer or the impact of better-informed decision-making is difficult to measure in dollars and cents.

However, that does not mean that the ROI does not exist. Companies that invest in Industry 4.0 technology consistently outperform their counterparts. According to the Wall Street Journal, Top Quartile performers typically have more than 80 percent of their production equipment monitored for vibration analysis compared to just 35 percent for Third Quartile companies. Their study also found that companies that depend on condition-based planned maintenance have fewer equipment emergencies, resulting in 14 percent less downtime and 71 percent lower maintenance cost.

Industrial manufacturers have a long shaped the way businesses operate. As more and more companies invest in technology to better understand their customers, improve the customer experience, increase value, and optimize internal processes, industrial manufacturers must embrace new ways of operating to ensure competitiveness and realize increased revenues.

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