So, firstly let’s do a quick primer on discrete manufacturing: Obviously manufacturers make things, and the spectrum ranges from repetitive at one end and make-to-order at the other, with all manner of combinations in between.
In its simplest form, repetitive manufacturers make lots of very small/simpler things e.g. nuts, washers, and bolts. They typically make-to-stock and ship in bulk, and will sell B2B, B2C and increasingly both.
Make-to-order manufacturers typically produce bigger and more complicated products which can include design, manufacturing and complex assembly processes, building either unique items or variants on a core.
These more complex products often require servicing of the product and the cost of the ongoing service can be higher than the cost of the product itself, some market leading manufacturers are now rolling the total cost of ownership into a holistic “product as a service” offering.
The key differences
These differences make sense – repetitive manufacturers are not going to service a nut or a washer – if these parts fail, the manufacturer will simply ship a new one out as needed, or indeed the client will simply replace the part due to the relative low cost in most cases of buying a replacement.
I’ve seen discrete manufacturers where the product sold is a mission critical item i.e. an engine on a Boeing 747. In this case, failure is not an option and in a lot of cases therefore, the service management of that part becomes fundamental and not something the client will risk going without.
The other difference that stands out is that most large-scale discrete manufacturers sell to other business clients – generally they don’t sell directly to the public. This has a very big impact on what the clients of manufacturers expect from them – managing sales and customer service when selling directly to the private consumer is completely different to corporate sales and servicing those corporate clients.
So, the focus of this blog is about what your client expects and needs when working with you as a supplier of discrete manufacturing products.
Expand or die – this will happen quickly!
A corporate client will see and engage with you across 3 critical interaction areas:
Corporate clients will have several people in the business that will either know or decide to investigate the brands/suppliers that manufacture and deliver things that they need to move forward.
Your brand is vital and the way that the client perceives your brand is critical.
One of the first ways they look at you is to visit your website and even in large scale discrete manufacturers, this first experience will tell them everything they need to know as they are making the decision to engage with you.
This is an ongoing battleground for you, as website design and customer expectations continue to change and evolve. The website must show that clients are well taken of, and that the products are well thought through. It must highlight existing clients willing to showcase their use of the brand. It must give the prospective client the confidence that the business and its brand is one that can be invested in.
While I’ve seen a lot of very good websites, I’ve also seen my share of sites that could do with significant improvement. This is often the first point of contact for your prospect – it needs to:
- Look great
- Give them enough detail about you, your products, and your clients.
- Track visitors’ movements across the site – tracking anonymous prospects and clients and their use of the pages and area of the site.
- Give them the ability to connect with you over multiple channels – not just phone and email, and not just 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
Once the prospect has decided to engage with you, they will reach out through one of the channels, and this will undoubtedly eventually arrive in the laps of one of your salespeople or Account Managers. From here the interactions become much more personal.
Leads will come into sales from multiple channels, and in the modern world this can include social channels as well as the more formal channels – social is not as heavily used in B2B interactions as it is in direct B2C, but it should still be well managed to ensure you don’t miss any engagements from your clients and prospects over these social channels.
Let’s just ensure that we highlight the main channels available through modern systems and their criticality in modern discrete manufacturing:
- Email – heavily used for engagements
- Direct events based – heavily used in some sectors
- Phone – heavily used in both B2C and B2B
- Webchat – lightly used in B2B, heavily used in B2C
- Social (Facebook, Twitter etc.) - lightly used in B2B, heavily used in B2C
The lead arrives into your sales or Account Management teams, and they then need to engage in the right way. There are some critical considerations here:
- You should be able to record any interactions in your Customer Management platform – the reality is that sales leads move round inside the business, and sometimes leave the business. Your customer hates the questions when a new salesperson takes over, having to repeat things they’ve told you before simply because your internal systems are not up to scratch, and/or your salespeople are too lazy to use them.
- You should keep your interactions on the channel(s) your customer prefers. Give them the choice and then engage with them on their chosen channel.
- Your customers want a consistent, professional, honest approach to your interactions with them. This is even more critical in large scale business to business engagements, where a wrong thing said or done can cause massive negative ripples for your relationship.
- Try to keep things simple for your customer. They want reliable, clear information, so don’t overcomplicate the messages you deliver, whether it be around product capabilities, pricing, or contracts.
In the world of discrete manufacturing, customer services should embrace both core service support and Field Service. Product manufacture, delivery and implementation takes time and generates revenue for you.
However, it's vital to retain that client and be able to put together a service package that is attractive, supportive and doesn’t involve a break/fix model. It's a very valuable thing that most discrete manufacturers are working towards.
A service focused approach
A lot of the global companies I’ve worked with have either already moved, or are moving from a product, to a service focused approach, and the reasons for this should be obvious.
Continuous operating revenues from a service model is much more predictable than a pure product approach, and growth is more certain if the products at the core of the solution are advanced, reliable, and the relationship you have with your customers is positive.
I’ve seen a large shift in the last 10 years towards this service-based model, but to make it work well for you and for your customers you should consider the impacts of technology on this area.
Let’s talk about the Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things is advancing rapidly, and it’s one of the core elements of the Industry 4.0 standards. A lot of the companies I’ve worked with are still struggling to embrace the implications of IoT, but at its simplest form it means that the manufactured devices coming to market now are capable of having and should have a plethora of sensors built in that can inform you (if you listen) of their health.
Temperature sensors, pressure sensors, thrust sensors – simple or complex in nature – can be used to tell you everything about the machinery you have installed at a customer site or sites. If you have decided to bury your head in the sand and ignore the direction, then it’s very likely that you’ll get overtaken by a competitor.
My recommendation is to embrace this advance now and use it to offer a superior level of service to your customers. If your devices can tell you of problems before your customer is aware of it, you can fix the problem and the machine will then happily keep performing, without any loss of service for your customer. If you rely on the customer contacting you when the device has stopped then it’s clear this is a much more negative scenario.
So this move from break/fix to never fail is the heart of the challenge for large scale manufacturers, but also serves to reduce costs. In the past contract might involve engineers going out on a periodic basis for service. Some of this can be managed if you are alerted by the machine and can use predictive analysis to understand failure rates for the machines you manage for your customers.
So, costs can drop, and quality can increase.
The importance of being connected
Finally – and I want to finish this blog with this element…
Service is about joining core service and Field Service completely – disjoints between the remote engineers and the call centre are always visible to customers.
So, my recommendation is, put together a completely joined up strategy for call centre management and Field Service – don’t use systems that can’t talk to each other. Don’t rely on people to fill the gaps – technology today is able to manage these requirements – don’t let outdated processes in your service organisation be the downfall for your company. Discover more about Field Service here.
The key to meeting customer expectations is improving your customer service and experience
The quality of your customer service and the overall experience you're able to provide is vital to meeting expectations. Provide an outstanding customer service and you can create a memorable experience that has your customers coming back for more.
There's an art to it, though, which is why we created an ultimate guide. Covering the relationship between customer service and experience, examples of companies who are executing it well and more, you can check it out below.