In a contributed article for Internet of Business, Gavin Mee, senior vice president and head of UK at Salesforce, explains why the voice of the connected customer is something that manufacturers of consumer goods can no longer afford to ignore.
There was a time when every sale was pretty much a single transaction. A product was sold to a customer and that might be followed by occasional servicing and maintenance tasks, where necessary. A customer would purchase a refrigerator from Currys or John Lewis, for example, and, if it needed maintenance, track down the manual to find the manufacturer’s phone number and request a repair. There was little in the way of a significant, ongoing relationship between manufacturer and end-user, and no perceived need for one.
Today, a connected customer buy your refrigerator directly from the manufacturer, and, before they are even aware there is an issue with it, they might receive an email that outlines the problem, and proactively gives them suggested dates and times for a field service engineer to come and fix it.
This means that today, manufacturers own that ‘end-user’ relationship – and that means manufacturers need to up their game in terms of customer relationship management.
Read more: Consumers Begin to Embrace Smart Shopping
Evolving customer expectations
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘the customer is king.’ Customer expectations have evolved. The use of mobile and social technologies has led to a change in the way customers interact with brands across the board. They are becoming trickier to attract, influence and retain. And that means manufacturers have to step up to the mark to ensure their products are not left on the shelf – literally – as the last unsold goods in the shop.
This new face of manufacturing is not only about creating compelling products, but also the ‘smart-enabling’, via sensors and software, that can deliver value-added services to connected customers. Earlier this year, LG announced an option to connect Amazon Alexa to its fridges. This connection allows users to add items to a shopping list through voice commands. This type of innovation develops new outside-in, customer-centric business models and processes.
Today’s customers are also looking for personalized experiences. Bespoke manufacturing has been around for a while: Siemens is working with Adidas to use flexible manufacturing technologies like robotics and 3D printing to create bespoke and localized sportswear. But personalization goes much further. While many are still playing catch-up, leading retailers are responding to these evolving expectations. Jaguar Land Rover, for example, has put personalization at the heart of its sales at its Westfield (London) store.
Customers can use the store’s ‘create’ space, which includes colour swatches, examples of interior trim and samples of the interior choices available, to design a car that reflects their personality. This is a great example of a brand recognizing that the purchasing journey is no longer linear, but moves across channels including web, social and mobile.
Another way we’re seeing brands create tailored experiences for customers is Dyson’s dedicated retail spaces. A brand famed for innovation, Dyson has designed bricks-and-mortar stores where shoppers can test and experience the company’s technology and products. Consumers now expect a continuous journey and shops are maximizing these ‘online-offline’ moments at every touchpoint.
What does this mean for manufacturers?
In other words, manufacturers must start understanding the connected customer a lot better. Understanding customer motivations and values can transform every aspect of sales and marketing. It helps to inform product development and spark manufacturing innovation – the fundamental success drivers for direct-to-customer services.
For example, food and drinks manufacturers have recognized that many customers prefer low-sugar alternatives. As a result, they are innovating to create new products, and marketing these products to speak directly to customers’ health concerns.
It can be difficult to get closer to customers when you sell through channel partners and retailers and have no direct customer relationships. Even manufacturers that sell directly often hold customer data in isolation from the rest of the business. IT systems frequently are adopted in a fragmented fashion, and that lack of a joined-up approach results in data spread across different databases, production and warehousing systems – all disconnected to the back-office software programmes in use.
Legacy technology and paper-based systems also create a disconnect between field service agents and head office. Salesforce research recently found that more than 70 percent of executives say field service agents need to make a return visit to the customer site ‘at least sometimes.’ By failing to make reps mobile-enabled, they are unable to look up customer data, service histories or complaint issues when they need it – in real time.
Connected systems for a connected world
Customer service is rapidly changing because customers are changing. And manufacturers now have an unprecedented opportunity to better understand their end customers and capture them as loyal, lifelong buyers, in the same way that retailers once did. To do that, it’s time for the industry to accept that a successful and connected customer experience continues well beyond product boxing and shipping.
The secret for these manufacturers is to effectively redefine the goal of manufacturing in terms of customer success, not just product sales. It’s a trend that Forbes magazine cited as a top ten customer service focus 2017: improving the customer experience is no longer just a retail challenge. By leveraging all the available data – from customer data to connected devices – manufacturers can deliver the smarter services that the connected customer demands.