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No place for technology barriers as focus turns to customer experience

Technology and supply chains in manufacturing - pushing customer experience

As consumers get ever more technologically savvy and aware of their buying choices, the customer experience is being driven up the corporate agenda, and along the supply chain. Recognising that consumers are monitoring, evaluating and sharing their experiences, manufacturers need to build feedback and agility into their business strategy in order to benefit from this revolution, rather than losing out to it.

The power that consumers now wield has been fuelled by the rise of social media and the opportunity to share reviews and recommendations and, as a result, their buying choices. This transformation has done little to restore trust in institutions, governments and business.

In response, retailers and service providers are actively working to build closer connections with their customers. While some manufacturers may conclude that end-customers are too far away in the chain, this is likely to prove a high-risk strategy. They cannot sit back and allow retailers sole responsibility for promoting their products: manufacturers must seize control of the customer experience and make it a key competitive differentiator.

However, only connected organisations can deliver great customer experience. This is especially true for manufacturers, who must maintain connectivity not just between factory floor, research departments and leadership; but also up and down their supply chains.

One key area for building brand loyalty is adapting to feedback, and using it to provide a highly personalised experience for the customer. Ultimately, manufacturers can also use feedback as a way of constantly upgrading and improving their products in a seamless way that is endorsed by the client base. This level of customer engagement is a game-changer, which is set to transform the approach, culture and ecosystem of all businesses.

Nevertheless, many leaders who already recognise this reality - and should be gaining valuable first-mover advantage - are seeing their organisations fall short in the absence of a suitable ecosystem that delivers such outcomes. One of the barriers is often technological: manufacturers face particular difficulties in their interactions with customers.

For example, a customer may call the manufacturer with a warranty issue, and yet because the company has had no previous contact with that persona, they therefore hold no data. To address this challenge, firms must implement a system that allows employees across the organisation to view and act upon service-relevant information. Naturally, manufacturers who build suitably proactive and reactive feedback systems will also want to include their direct clients in the process, and ensure that direct buyers feel as well looked after as the consumer.

While most companies will have long-established systems to deal with the arrival of each new customer engagement channel, the good news is that bringing these together may not be insurmountable, from either a cost or implementation perspective. One option is to put in place a single enterprise information platform, which brings all front-line systems together, offering connectivity to any legacy ‘back office’ systems that staff may still be using.

This hub can effectively link the customer directly to advanced R&D functions, manufacturing software and the company leadership: then all of these key departments will be able to see feedback and analysis of customer data, almost as fast as it comes in. Such a platform can hold an organisation together like glue, but it will only really be effective in terms of customer experience if the internal user experience is equally good.

It is widely recognised that employee satisfaction goes hand-in-hand with service quality. However, to achieve such outcomes, the process for finding and using data needs to be easy and intuitive. A connected business needs to think of its staff much as it does its customers, ensuring a seamless experience, by providing suitable training and an easy to use interface that will facilitate all their work. This approach should extend beyond the technology and into the culture of the organisation - indeed as has been previously suggested, the very concept of ’back office’ should be consigned to history.

From a management perspective, to maximise the return on the investment, executives should define and communicate the customer experience strategy, ahead of any new software selection and implementation. As a starting point, this should be a detailed vision of what you want your customers to feel and experience, and how you can leverage that into growth.

Once the organisation has aligned and integrated all systems, geographies and platforms, greater opportunities for monetising the customer experience will emerge, with emergent technologies based on AI, bots and analytics set to play a greater role. Manufacturers that are able to constantly improve their offer both to wholesale and retail customers will not only gain sales, but also create valuable efficiencies. At the same time, they will build trust and loyalty that bonds them to the client base and ensures successful peer-to-peer reputations for years to come.

Tim Rushent is account manager, industry and commerce, with Hyland. www.hyland.com

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