As customer expectations continue to evolve, manufacturers are finding that today’s B2B buyer has specific wants and requirements. Providing the best possible digital customer experience can be a big differentiator for any manufacturing business, but to set yourself apart requires a shift in mindset.
The traditional way of doing business, ‘hand-shakes’ and phone calls has been turned on its head, so it’s no wonder you’re grappling with the best way to lead your company to a best-in-class customer experience. The first thing required is to have an open mind about your customers. It’s time to get to know them and their buying journey in a whole new way while employing the right tools to use those insights to optimize the experience. Let’s get started.
When we talk about preconceptions, ‘who your customer’ is looms large. You likely see them as dealers, distributors, retailers, and other third-party channels that you know a lot about. Which is true, but you also need to dig a bit deeper. Your actual customer is the end-user of your product, and they have valuable insights to offer – not just to refine and improve your products, but to drive the customer experience.
While your research and development team may have a “voice of the customer” program, it’s likely focused on product improvement. Let’s say you make safety equipment and get feedback that a harness cuts across a shoulder. So, you add a pad. This works, but doesn’t do much to inform the overall customer experience. Who buys this harness? How can we better inform the end customer about it? How is it purchased?
The same research tactics you use to improve products can improve the customer experience.
Think of your strategy as a three-legged stool: The first leg is customer need, and to get your head around what they really need means building a robust set of both channel and end-customer personas. From there, you can build a set of specific ‘online’ buyer journeys based on where each persona is in your marketing funnel. You’ll decide how these different personas are best served – whether online, offline, through the channel, or directly.
Your research also informs the second leg – growth opportunities. The knowledge you gain about your customers can be used not only to find new customers but also to grow your existing accounts, retain accounts, and implement operating efficiencies. The last leg of the stool is the digital capabilities that match the customer need and the business outcomes you’re trying to drive.
Your customers, no matter the channel, want access to pricing, inventory availability, and product information. They also want access to their account information – past purchases, custom pricing, etc. – as well as what their order is going to cost and when they’re going to get it.
It’s all about providing solutions for your customers without any friction, which means giving them a knowledge base with product information, self-service options for ordering, and the ability to track their shipments, plus the ability to diagnose and solve their problems.
It’s really important to understand each customer tier in your value chain and develop deep knowledge of their end-to-end journey. This means taking a close look not just at the marketing journey or the sales journey, but how the entire journey is woven together. Your customer experiences for each persona – dealers, distributors, retailers, and end-users – must be optimized from the awareness stage through interest, consideration, intent, evaluation, and finally, purchase.
A true digital customer experience touches all functions in the organization. It’s important to understand how every department in your company impacts the customer journey. Look at it this way: If someone is showing interest in a product because of a marketing campaign, that potential customer will have to interact with sales.
To provide the best customer experience and close the sale, sales needs every scrap of background information available on that prospect. Sales will need to provide customer service with the information they need to service the customer, marketing will want to know that their campaign worked so they know what to do next time, and so on. It’s important to know that every department in your company has an essential part to play in creating a great overall customer journey.
Product data, account data, pricing data, etc. are table-stakes customer expectations. For perspective, most B2B organizations don’t have this level of maturity and data organization – so you are not alone. To up your game, you need to have rich product content as well as good pricing and availability data, so they can see what it will cost and when they can expect to get it.
Customer and account data will let you contextualize what that customer needs and know how to route that to the right functional area of your company. It also will inform your personas and identify problems they might encounter that can be solved by your knowledge base.
Today’s customers want self-service when it comes to shipment tracking, finding parts and service, and reordering. They don’t want to have to call to get this information, and offering self-service options means they won’t have to, which helps with call deflection.
While some issues will ultimately be best solved by direct contact, offering self-service has long-term implications – namely happy customers who have the ability to order on their own timeframe, a better buyer experience and in turn, lasting relationships..
Building optimized customer experiences takes work, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Prioritize the customer journeys you can impact now, which ones have the biggest impact on your business, and devise a plan for your efforts based on these factors as well as ROI.
Take your time, get to know your different customer personas intimately, and don’t take on too much transformation too quickly. Understand what will meet both customer needs and have the most business impact.
I mentioned earlier the importance of involving teams across your organization. This means getting their buy-in and support. This is probably the hardest thing at most organizations. Remind them that technology won’t replace their jobs, but it will help them do their jobs better, create happier customers, and improve the company’s bottom line. You might remind them about how their own consumer behaviors have evolved with technology to create that aha moment that brings them on board.
This Article Originally appeared in Entrepreneur Media