I am putting together a thought leadership piece on the changing landscape of the manufacturing industry. More specifically, customer service within the industry.

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I am putting together a thought leadership piece on the changing landscape of the manufacturing industry. More specifically, customer service within the industry.

While end consumers have become used to the benefits of digitalization, including real time interactivity and the creation of individualized customer journeys, businesses in general and manufacturers in particular have fallen behind in providing the same level of experience in their B2B (business to business) sales. A recent McKinsey report offers the following five steps in using the new technologies to provide a better B2B experience: map all customers, create tracks, manage rework and incidents, digitize journeys, and create journey transparency and work cells.
Below you will find a deep dive of our findings.


A McKinsey report from 2016 notes, "B2B customer-experience index ratings significantly lag behind those of retail customers," with B2C companies averaging scores in the 65-85% range, but B2B companies averaging below 50%. The report anticipates that this gap will grow. Businesses are focused on meeting the needs of their retail clients, particularly in using digitization "and the rising use of smartphones are establishing new standards for fast, seamless customer service in all settings." Since business clients are also retail customers in their private lives, they expect the same level of responsiveness and digitalization in their business dealings. As a 2017 white paper from Microsoft notes, "shifts that begin with B2C firms end up changing how B2B companies operate. Today, even B2B customers don’t stay loyal to a brand when expectations aren’t completely met." Compounding the problem, where digitalization is available, it often isn't being used to best effect. A survey conducted by The Boston Consulting Group and NICE reports that while 82% of consumers use a web self-service channel, 82% also still call businesses to speak with agents.
While two-thirds of B2C companies compete on the basis of providing a smooth customer experience (CX), a number that Gartner expects to rise to 81% by 2019, B2B corporations are falling behind. However, those businesses who focus on using digital tools to create a better B2B customer experience are reaping the benefits. In one case-study cited by McKinsey, an IT-services provider turned a negative net promoter score positive in just 12 months simply by redesigning their B2B customer journey, "addressing all dimensions of customer experience—process, customer tools, performance management, and employee mind-sets."
McKinsey recommends the following five steps, which have proven to successfully improve the B2B customer experience specifically for manufacturers: map all customers, create tracks, manage rework and incidents, digitize journeys, and create journey transparency and work cells. Each of these goes into becoming, as the Harvard Business Review terms it, an "outcome-centric business as opposed to a customer-centric one," a business which targets individual customers and seeks to deliver a desired outcome to them rather than targeting market segments and seeking to deliver a desired product.


Because a business client is made up of many individuals in various positions and with different needs, creating a consistent customer experience is a nigh-impossible task, especially in manufacturing. The buyer and user of the products are often different people. The customer journey is more complex than in a B2C sale. Mapping customers means mapping the journey of all of a client's relevant purchasers, stakeholders, and influencers. A key mistake in implementing digitalization (which we will discuss below) is automating the process before understanding a client's behavior. Mapping one's existing customers to understand the complex web of influence within the businesses can avoid this pitfall and, with the level of data that only digitalization and advanced business analysis can provide, provide "the types of insights that are truly paradigm-altering."


Creating tracks means to split the customer journey into standard and specialty tracks, or express, standard, and advanced tracks, to meet each customer's need without wasting resources. This avoids a "one size fits all" approach which actually makes customers work harder as they are forced down digital channels which may not be appropriate to their needs.


Managing rework to minimize the delay to a B2B customer is paramount, as is managing the incidents which made the rework necessary. This includes not only incidents which produce an unsatisfactory end product, but continually improving one's digital channels to relieve pain points for one's customers, including "process dead ends, confusing messages, cluttered user interfaces, broken links, and even system outages."
An oft-overlooked aspect of incident management is collecting data from existing products (using the so-called Internet of Things) to improve their performance in future models. Harvard Business Review gives the example of Cummins, a diesel engine manufacturer which collected "real-time performance data of its engines and is using it to identify how engines can be made to work more efficiently." This provides accurate data for product improvement that bypasses the filter of the sales team (often the client's only point of contact) and compresses the development cycle for future products.


Digitizing the customer journey "is a lever often left unused by B2B companies," but offers enormous potential to improve satisfaction, from using digital "track and trace" to enable customers to see the status of their journey in real time to providing client applications which track the status and upcoming maintenance on leased equipment. This enables the manufacturer to create journey transparency and work cells, which make it possible to keep both the manufacturer's employees and the client apprised on the state of their order at all times. It also boosts efficiency within the manufacturing process.

Blockchain technology, which was originally developed for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, shows great promise in enabling this level of journey transparency by "creating a single, comprehensive, shared chain of data and logic." This has enormous potential in controlling the supply chain beyond merely providing transparency to the customer, including creating "smart contracts" and better demand forecasting. Suffice it to say, being able to see the supply chain and manufacturing process take place in real-time builds customer trust, even when unavoidable delays take place.
The greatest strength of a digital supply chain and a digital journey is that it provides the data at every step for the manufacturer "to become more proactive rather than purely reactive, and offer a more customer-centric experience." After-sales customer support and service becomes focused on predictive interventions instead of reactive damage control. An equipment manufacturer might automate the process of service scheduling and parts replacement to create minimal difficulties in a client's business, for example.


While all the above advice is true, it comes out of new technological developments which supplement, not replace, the long-standing backbone of relationship building between a manufacturer and their clients:
1) Build and maintain customer relationships
2) Keep your promises
3) Respond quickly
4) Be friendly


To not only remain competitive, but expand their businesses, manufacturers need to integrate digital solutions with tried-and-true relationship-building for their B2B clients. These clients, having become used to real-time digitalization in their individual B2C purchases, expect manufacturers to use new technologies to meet and even anticipate their needs while keeping the purchasing and delivery process transparent.