The importance of digital customer experience in the manufacturing industry
Customer and experience are two words that you don’t often encounter in the manufacturing industry. On the whole, manufacturing is an industry focused on the product – rather than how it is presented to the customer – and to some extent, rightly so. Much of the insight usually found within the boardroom walls of a manufacturing giant are typically applied to product design or R&D. The next step in the chain (the B2C offering) is usually handled by the supplier/distributor who sells the end product onto the various customer groups.
But recent research by Gallup reveals 71 percent of B2B companies are at risk of losing customers by not being fully engaged with the companies they do business with, and tend to live from one RFP to the next. These companies will find it hard to compete as the retention of existing clients becomes as important as the acquisition of new ones. Which means relying on the strength of product design and a competitive pricing strategy is no longer enough, they need to view the world through the lens of their customers and priorities the customer experience.
There is good reason why customer experience has become such a modern buzzword, and it is one which is increasingly pertinent for manufacturers. It is all about growing the business from existing clients and improving optimized efficiency to bring in new ones; understanding the relationship your organisation has with customers; and working to improve it through all engagements with the brand. But when faced with this seemingly monolithic task, where should already stretched decision makers start?
A logical place to begin is often the company’s online presence and digital customer experience offered. Business-focused web platforms are developing quickly and are often a manufacturer’s shopfront in an increasingly digital world. It needs to convey a lot more about the business and how it works than acting as a simple online version of a product catalogue. When customers are looking on an organisaiton’s website, whether it’s for something specific or just to find out more about the company and its products, they 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.
The process of evaluating your digital user experience can also be a transformational one for a company. We recently worked with lighting manufacturer iGuzzini to create an online customer experience and digital platform for the company. As a global business, iGuzzini therefore needed to show a unified face to the world across all territories. As part of the process, we spent months working with the business’ customers in different locations around the world, collecting detailed feedback about they used the brand’s website, and what they would want from a new site.
As part of the entire digital experience redesign, we overhauled the structure away from a purely specific product-focused structure, which required a deep knowledge of the products types and models. Instead, the new site is much more intuitive, structured by product type: indoor; outdoor; or style of lighting. There is also a dedicated ‘projects’ section for inspiration, showing how different iGuzzini lighting types are being installed and showcased around the world. Ultimately the platform is catering for two core audience needs - those looking to be inspired about what’s in development and what’s possible with iGuzzini lighting, and those who are intent on finding the specifics and details as quickly as possible.
The process of transforming the entire global digital presence for the brand put the website at the heart of the company’s marketing and customer engagement processes, providing tangible feedback from their diverse international customers front and centre and providing iGuzzini as a whole with valuable insights into what their buyers and end users want from them. It is this kind of improvement in approach, towards a greater understanding of customer needs and building a strategic framework to activate that understanding, where customer experience can pay the greatest dividends for a business-to-business organisation. It provides a fresh perspective on the company from without, and inspires positive change from within.
For many manufacturing businesses, all of this would have them reaching first for the latest technological online presence to make them appear cutting edge and modern. That’s not always the best approach, however. In understanding your customers, and attempting to answer their needs, to put them at the forefront of any transformation of your online presence. Otherwise you could be overcomplicating their experience of you – essentially making it much harder to sell.
It can a be a complicated process – especially if you have a wide range of potential customers engaging with you online – but the right approach can make their journey from finding your business to closing an order much more streamlined. Really, that’s what every commercially focused company exists to do – sell more product. By getting closer to your customers and responding to how they interact with your business, taking a fresh look at your customer experience can not only help you with new business but retain it thereafter.
Tom Dougherty is User Experience Director at Delete
Follow @ManufacturingGL and @NellWalkerMG
IMF: Variants Can Still Hurt Manufacturing Recovery
After a year of on-and-off manufacturing in the US, UK, and the eurozone, demand for goods surged early last week. Factories set growth records in April and May, suppliers started to recover, and US crude hit its highest price point since pre-COVID. As vaccination efforts immunise much of the US and UK populations, manufacturers are now able to fully ramp up their supply chains. In fact, GDP growth could approach double-digits by 2022.
Now, the ISM productivity measure has surpassed the 50-point mark that separates industry expansion from contraction. Since U.S. president Biden passed his US$1.9tn stimulus package and the UK purchasing managers index (PMI) increased to 65.6, both sides of the Atlantic are facing a much-welcomed manufacturing recovery.
Lingering Concerns Over COVID
Even as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany race to catch up, and mining companies pushed the FTSE 100 index of list shares to a monthly high of 7,129, some say that UK and US markets still suffer from a lack of confidence in raw material supplies. Yes, the Dow Jones has made up its 19,173-point crash of March 2020, and MSCI’s global stock index is at an all-time high.
Yet manufacturers around the world realise that these wins will be short-lived until pandemic supply chain bottlenecks are solved. If we keep the status quo, consumers will pay the price. In April, inflation in Germany reached 2.4%, and across the EU’s 19 member countries, overall prices have increased at an unusual pace. Some ask: Is this true recovery?
IMF: Current Boom Could Falter
Even as Elon Musk tweeted about chip shortages forcing Tesla to raise its prices, UK mining demand skyrocketed; housing markets lifted; and the pound sterling gained value. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, cautioned that manufacturing recovery won’t last long if COVID mutates into forms our vaccinations can’t touch. Kristalina Georgieva, Washington’s IMF director, noted that fewer than 1% of African citizens have been vaccinated: “Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery”.
Across the globe, manufacturing companies are keeping a watchful eye on new developments in the spread of COVID. Though US FDA officials don’t think we’ll have to “start at square one” with new vaccines, the March 2021 World Economic Outlook states that “high uncertainty” surrounds the projected 6% global growth. Continued manufacturing success will in large part depend on “the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support, and the evolution of financial conditions”.
Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) concurred—without global immunisation, the estimated economic boom expected by 2025 could go kaput. “We need to...pursue an all-out effort to reach the entire world population”, Australia’s finance minister added. US$50bn to end COVID across the world, they imply, is a small investment to restart our economies.