5 ways manufacturers can emulate the retail industry to drive customer centricity

5 ways manufacturers can emulate the retail industry to drive customer centricity

Everyone knows the phrase “the customer is king”…

Yet, until now, customer service in the manufacturing industry has lagged behind the retail industry in adopting a customer-centric approach.

Retail was one of the first areas where businesses faced direct contact with digital consumers. In order to stay competitive in this dynamic sector, companies large and small found themselves forced to deal with areas, such as social media, mobile technology and e-commerce. Many of those who chose to bury their head in the sand have paid the ultimate price.

In contrast, manufacturers have traditionally avoided this direct customer contact, focusing attention instead on their multi-channel distribution partners. Even at the marketing level, the main customer service medium used in manufacturing to interact with consumers has been focus groups and product surveys.

However, as manufacturers face changing business conditions – and increasingly connected customers – they must now play catch-up by emulating the retail industry if they are to survive.

So how can manufacturers embrace digital manufacturing in their bid to get closer to consumers?

IDC Manufacturing Insights recommends that companies adopt the following four ‘pillars’ in their approach to customer service in manufacturing:

1. Mobile platform

Mobile is the fastest growing marketing channel, for both B2C and B2B, offering manufacturers a wealth of customer-centric opportunities. However, like all digital channels, it needs to be underpinned by robust system integration to deliver a seamless experience.

2. Social business and social networking

The proliferation of social media networks enables manufacturers to reach and engage with consumers as they go about their everyday lives. Gathering personal information, feedback on product usage, customer preferences and brand sentiment will enable manufacturers to make more informed decisions. Technology that draws together customer information from diverse sources is invaluable here.

3. Cloud computing

Cloud computing has revolutionized the traditional manufacturing business model by providing scalable, virtualized resources as a pay-as-you-go service via the Internet. The technology behind the cloud offers economies of scale at unprecedented levels and enables business users to create agile business processes, including those with customer touch points, quickly and simply.

4. Big data and analytics

Without doubt the emergence of big data provides an exciting link between the manufacturer and user behavior. Manufacturers are now deluged on a daily basis with information from digitally connected devices, such as wearables and automotive navigation systems. This data can – and should – be exploited to gain competitive advantage but needs to be pulled together to provide insights and predictability into the business.

“For many reasons, I’d argue that manufacturers are in an even better position to ultimately capture and use customer data than retailers are because they will capture a higher quantity and quality of data directly from the products their consumers use.”

Phil Hussey, President and Managing Partner, 89 Degrees.

Integration of data captured from these various digital platforms will assist collaboration between functions and across the manufacturing organization, boosting efficiency and productivity, while enhancing customer engagement.

5. Omni-channel

To these three, we would add a fourth pillar: omni-channel marketing. This customer-centric approach originated in retail but is now extending out to areas, such as manufacturing.

Omni-channel marketing has transformed customer choice by enabling customers to choose when, where and how to interact with suppliers. Because this interaction will vary according to time, location and circumstance, consistency is essential – ensuring that the customer has a comparable

experience whether using an iPhone app or accessing the manufacturer’s website from a desktop PC. Technology is now available to support omni-channel provisioning, aligning content and style across every channel to deliver a smooth customer experience in any location, from any device.

With all this technology readily available, manufacturers have no excuse not to get up close and personal with their customers. They just have to start using it...