Customer experience -- the series of interactions between a customer and a company -- is becoming an increasingly critical business factor for manufacturers, according to a new report by Framingham, Mass.-based IDC Manufacturing Insights. SearchManufacturingERP.com Site Editor Brenda Cole spoke with Heather Ashton, research director and author of the report, about her findings and the importance of customer experience management software.
What was the purpose of this research?
Heather Ashton: The impetus for writing the report came from our customers themselves. Over the last six months, there's been a significant increase in our manufacturing client inquiries related to how to better reach their customers. There's a lot of talk [in manufacturing] about supply chain and demand planning in order to get what the customers want, but not so much around how to reach customers in a customer-facing perspective.
We started talking to manufacturing and IT solution providers. We found that more manufacturers are thinking about their customers -- distributors, wholesalers, retailer or end consumer -- and what messages they want to send them and how to do that. It's happening in consumer goods, aerospace and defense, chemicals, automotive, industrial -- it's really across the board. And these manufacturers are looking to technology to [improve the customer experience].
Why is customer experience management so important?
Ashton: It looks at the whole customer lifecycle. It's not just about making the sale -- it's giving the customer the information they need before the sale and following through after the sale in many cases, especially with asset purchases, such as cars or industrial equipment. You really need to own that customer throughout the entire journey. That's why manufacturers want to develop that customer relationship. The customer may be brought in through a dealer, but manufacturers want that customer to stay with them for service and other downstream revenue opportunities.
I know one scientific equipment manufacturer that is selling its products through e-commerce. It uses a content management system to provide the customers -- scientists -- the information they need to make a very fast purchase of microscopes or other supplies. These are the kinds of leaders in the markets that are starting to understand and utilize [customer experience management software], but we're only at the very beginning of that trend.
Were there any findings around customer experience management that were surprising?
Ashton: One thing that comes immediately to mind is that several companies are at the beginning stages -- learning what technology is available, looking at how social media can help, reaching out directly to customers to send messages. These companies actually said, "We perceive that at some point, we'll be selling some portion of our products directly." These are in areas that are very traditionally channel-based. The question I asked, of course, was, 'How are you going to handle that conflict between direct sales and channel sales?' One quite honestly said to me, 'I don't know what that's going to mean, but we believe that it's the right thing for many of our customers.' They're using an order-orchestration system at the back end of their website to try to sort orders out to distributors. There's then the question of whether distributor A will get upset because it wanted customer B, but got customer X.
It's one of those things where the answers aren't there yet. However, the reality remains that we live in a world of instant gratification, so manufacturers are going to want to sell direct and so change the relationship with their channel.
Based on your findings, can you give manufacturers any advice on improving the customer experience?
Ashton: The most important thing is to understand what your business driver is. Are you trying to increase revenue? Are you trying to reduce costs? Using [customer experience management software] can help you automate in a way that puts you into that sales cycle. If you can provide your customers with information that can help reduce the cycle of their purchase, then that will reduce costs or the number of times you have to go back and forth on questions on a purchase order.
If you're trying to reach new markets, you'll use customer experience technology differently. It'll be more about social media and customer outreach and engagement. The key is to start with your business goals and look at the available tools to create the metrics needed to meet these goals.
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