How the connected customer is changing manufacturing

The secret to success for these manufacturers is to effectively redefine the goal of manufacturing in terms of customer success, not just product sales.


Image courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE MediaThere was a time when every sale was pretty much a single transaction. A product was sold to a customer and that might be followed by occasional servicing and maintenance tasks, where necessary. A customer would purchase a refrigerator and, if it needed maintenance, track down the manual to find the manufacturer's phone number and request a repair. There was little in the way of a significant, ongoing relationship between manufacturer and end-user, and no perceived need for one. 

Today, a connected customer buys a refrigerator directly from the manufacturer, and, before they are even aware there is an issue with it, they might receive an email that outlines the problem and proactively gives them suggested dates and times for a field service engineer to come and fix it. This means that today, manufacturers own that "end-user" relationship, and that means manufacturers need to up their game in terms of customer relationship management.

Evolving customer expectations

Customer expectations have evolved. The use of mobile and social technologies has led to a change in the way customers interact with brands across the board. They are becoming trickier to attract, influence and retain. And that means manufacturers have to step up to the mark to ensure their products are not left on the shelf as the last unsold goods in the shop.

This new face of manufacturing is not only about creating compelling products, but also the "smart-enabling", via sensors and software, that can deliver value-added services to connected customers. Today's customers are also looking for personalized experiences. Bespoke manufacturing has been around for a while: Siemens is working with Adidas to use flexible manufacturing technologies such as robotics and 3-D printing to create localized sportswear.

Personalization goes much further, though. While many are still playing catch-up, leading retailers are responding to these evolving expectations. Jaguar Land Rover, for example, has put personalization at the heart of its sales at its Westfield (London) store.

Customers can use the store's "create" space, which includes color swatches, examples of interior trim, and samples of the interior choices available, to design a car that reflects their personality. This is a great example of a brand recognizing that the purchasing journey is no longer linear, but moves across channels including web, social, and mobile.

Another way brands are creating tailored experiences for customers is Dyson's dedicated retail spaces. Dyson has designed bricks-and-mortar stores where shoppers can test and experience the company's technology and products. Consumers now expect a continuous journey and shops are maximizing these "online-offline" moments at every touchpoint.

What does this mean for manufacturers?

In other words, manufacturers must start understanding the connected customer a lot better. Understanding customer motivations and values can transform every aspect of sales and marketing. It helps to inform product development and spark manufacturing innovation—the fundamental success drivers for direct-to-customer services. For example, food and drinks manufacturers have recognized that many customers prefer low-sugar alternatives. As a result, they are innovating to create new products, and marketing these products to speak directly to customers' health concerns.

It can be difficult to get closer to customers when you sell through channel partners and retailers and have no direct customer relationships. Even manufacturers that sell directly often hold customer data in isolation from the rest of the business. Information technology (IT) systems frequently are adopted in a fragmented fashion, and that lack of a joined-up approach results in data spread across different databases, production and warehousing systems—all disconnected to the back-office software programs in use.

Legacy technology and paper-based systems also create a disconnect between field service agents and head office. Research recently found that more than 70% of executives say field service agents need to make a return visit to the customer site "at least sometimes". By failing to make reps mobile-enabled, they are unable to look up customer data, service histories or complaint issues when they need it.

Connected systems for a connected world

Customer service is rapidly changing because customers are changing. And manufacturers now have an unprecedented opportunity to better understand their end customers and capture them as loyal, lifelong buyers, in the same way that retailers once did. To do that, it's time for the industry to accept that a successful and connected customer experience continues well beyond product boxing and shipping.

The secret for these manufacturers is to effectively redefine the goal of manufacturing in terms of customer success, not just product sales. By leveraging all the available data—from customer data to connected devices—manufacturers can deliver the smarter services that the connected customer demands.

Gavin Mee, senior vice president and head of UK at Salesforce. This article originally appeared on Internet of Business. Vinelake is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Carly Marchal, content specialist, CFE Media, 

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