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What does ”customer experience” mean for the manufacturing industry?

On IoT, competitiveness and lessons learned from the consumer sector.

Paul Jones Winlund / February 01, 2018

In recent years, tons of articles have been written about how the retail industry is optimizing the “buyer experience” and “buyer’s journey” for consumers.

More and more B2B companies are now starting to think in similar ways, not least within the manufacturing industry. But can you really compare these two worlds? We asked some quick questions to Paul Jones Winlund, who has a wealth of experience working with CX, i.e. customer experience, in both these worlds.

Hi Paul. What can the manufacturing industry learn from the consumer side, in your view? Can you even compare the two?

Well, of course there are areas where the consumer industry is much further ahead, and that's not surprising. They are usually dealing with a fairly simple and straightforward buy-and-sell situation. But let me return to that comparison shortly.

The relationship between industrial companies and their customers is usually a lot more complex, not least today when the amount of services involved tends to increase dramatically. That also gives the customer experience an increased importance and a slightly different meaning.

How do you mean? Can you give me a concrete example?

I am primarily thinking of industrial applications of IoT within heavy industry, with extremely long relationships and where the values at stake are very high. And where the providers of technology for integration and automatization can increasingly charge for improved uptime and productivity, rather than their own products and services.

In the past, companies focused much more on the physical product, with an emphasis on technical specifications, price and performance. Today they are paying more and more attention to the customer's experience and what you actually gain from both the product and the related services that the supplier is offering to maximise the customer benefit. How efficiently you apply the technology and use the product.

The increased competition has also made it even more important for customers to be ahead of the pack, which has put more of a focus on proactive consulting and help during the start-up phase.

The buyer's journey is often just part of a more comprehensive and complex change journey – how to develop a more efficient and competitive operation. And of course, that journey needs to be as simple, quick and efficient as possible.

We're talking about both big and small changes. For example, how to use more structured work methods to move from input data to a finished, functional prototype in a faster and safer way. Or how to restructure an entire production system.

OK, there are obviously differences. But let's get back to retail. What can industrial companies learn from the fast development within the consumer sector?

A lot, I think. But first we must separate the terms retail and b2c. A large part of B2B deals are already taking place via resellers, in other words industrial retail, but in general it's not as efficient as on the consumer side. But online giant Amazon now has its sights set on "B2B going C", not only when it comes to the fastest moving industrial products like spare parts, gaskets, filters and other consumables. That will cause a major issue for traditional retailers.

Aside from those types of commodities, which are – or have been – a very lucrative business, industrial companies are also building up their competitive edge partly through offering secure deliveries, and partly through value-adding insights, experience and knowledge that have been developed and refined over many years.

In which areas can industrial companies learn the most from the consumer side, in your view?

Retail chains and e-commerce have led the development of both distribution and more attractive shopping experiences, and that's mainly because they've been under so much pressure from global competition.

The digital development has also created new opportunities to attract customers. A concrete example is the "prosumer" concept, where the customer is more systematically involved in tailor-making their own car, for instance. Of course there are similar opportunities in industry. The areas that B2B companies could most easily emulate and take advantage of are probably:

STANDARDIZATION – It's surprisingly common for international B2B companies to have different versions, names, numbers and prices for a product in different countries. There is a big potential here for both internal efficiency increases and simplification for the customer.

SIMPLIFYING FOR THE CUSTOMERS – Making it simpler and easier for the customer to analyze their own needs, get the right information, navigate to the right product or solution and get it delivered and maybe installed at the right price. One example would be handling complaints better after a purchase. Parts of the dialogue and navigation required may be fully automated using digital tools.

PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT AND NETWORKING – Many consumer brands use the web and various digital tools to maintain more vibrant, continuous and sustainable relationships with more individuals within the companies they are working with. That often leads to customers becoming part of the company's marketing in different ways.

But we cannot ignore the fact that the digital developments that have changed our private lives and consumer habits in just a few years will also affect our working lives.

As a buyer, we expect the process of finding good information, getting in touch with the right person and getting quick responses to our questions and requests to be just as easy as when shopping at home. As salespeople and marketers, we need to go to even greater lengths to offer both business value and personal value in the form of a simple and secure buyer's journey.

Paul Jones Winlund
Tieto alumni

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