Technology supports enhanced customer centricity

Value-add programs are more important than ever as tools to overcome increased competition. Empowered by technology, new entrants into the market, as well as established veterans, are putting pressure on manufacturers to examine their mix of product offerings and services. Unless they want to risk commoditization of products or eroding market share, manufacturers must find ways to stand apart from their competitors. Enhancing the customer experience, from order entry to after-market service, is one of the most effective ways to build relationships that are resilient to aggressive competitors.

Even in business-to-business (B2B) industries, the customer expects timely, responsive service. Consumers have become accustomed to technology which recommends purchases and suggests related products often bought together, such as bulbs for a lamp, or an installation kit for a new dishwasher. Customers expect the same type of omniscient ability to sense and advise to carry over to the business world. Fast turn-around times, personalized products, attentive sales people, excellent credit terms, error-free deliveries, and responsive customer service and field service are other mandatory table-stakes. Manufacturers who disappoint in any one of these categories are likely to be replaced—and soon.

With so much at stake, a manufacturer must strive to further enhance service offerings and go above and beyond the typical array of features. Technology often provides the added boost or distinctive edge that will make all the difference. Here are several examples of solutions which will help you create customer intimacy and enhanced field service.

Configure, Price, Quote. A CPQ solution helps the manufacturer offer customized products to customers. The solution guides the user through selections, based on pre-configured options, automatically creating a quote and CAD drawing of the configured product. This tool saves time for the manufacturer, reducing engineering time, and allows the customer to order specialized products.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions. Having an advanced CRM solution is important today for managing accounts, promotions, expected purchases, as-serviced history, and the account’s purchasing and billing details. A modern solution helps you anticipate needs and be proactive in building relationships.

Customer service desk. Connectivity across the organization makes it easier for customer service representatives to answer questions and access real-time status of parts inventory, technician schedules, warranty and service agreements, as well as dispatch of service crews. The customer service team can quickly and accurately answer questions for customers about orders, billing, and service requests. Visibility is the key.

Warranties and service agreements. These tools are important service offering for customers. In order to manage the program, you need advanced service solutions which can help you track extended and multi-tier warranties, ensuring that the proper billing. Service agreements can also be a major form of revenue, as long as they are well managed, highly productive and efficiently leverage parts and labor.

Technician scheduling. Getting the right technician to the right place at the right time, with the right parts and tools is essential. With advanced dispatch tools, the process can be simplified, increasing productivity of service fleets and ensuring faster response to customer.

Inventory of spare parts. Improved visibility throughout the value chain will help manufacturers ensure they have access to spare parts for their customers’ products when and where they are needed. Visibility into the supply chain readiness will also help manufacturers understand the necessary back-up stock requirements and minimize inventory of costly parts.

Forecast service and parts demand. Visibility into customer purchase history, including details of models and any special configurations, will help the service operation predict parts, revenue, and staffing requirements, by region. This forecasting will help manufacturers by ready with resources, even when spikes in demand occur.

3D printing of parts. If rare parts aren’t available, the manufacturer may be able to employ 3D printing to create the part in a timelier and more cost-effective way than a special order from a supplier that is continents away or no longer in business.

Tracking fleet vehicles. Sensors embedded on service vans will help dispatchers track location of vans so they can route or reroute technicians as needed to answer emergency service calls. Tracking van location also helps monitor technician productivity and accurate billing of customers.

Internet of Things. Machinery and equipment can be embedded with smart sensors to generate data about location, environmental conditions, or performance. Smart sensors can be used to monitor and alert the service organization of early warning signs of equipment failure. Automated responses can be triggered, such as dispatching a technician or reserving a replacement part in inventory. The sensor-generated data can also be used to track the lifespan of the product, determine when calibration or preventive maintenance is required.

Proper product operation. There are times when product operation needs to be monitored to ensure safety and environmental regulations are being met. Or, improper practices, like dismantling safety warnings, may void the manufacturer’s warranty. Sensors can help technicians monitor that the equipment and machinery is being operated within recommendations.

Mobility and remote connectivity. Field technicians need remote access to data, such as inventory of parts and status of warranties. Mobile solutions give technicians the data they need to make well-informed decisions in the field, including the ability to sell replacements units.

Virtual Reality. Virtual environments can be used to help train technicians on complex machinery, especially when the machinery is remote or in a dangerous location.

Wearables and video. Video-enabled connectivity can help the field technician communicate and sahe video with a senior technician or design engineer at headquarters to obtain guidance. Wearables can also give technicians hands-free access to the system. Drones, robotics, and AI-enabled assistants are other ways the digital service operation may use technology to enhance service.

Service data as an offering. Data collected from products related to optimal performance and maintenance can be aggregated and packaged into insights customers will find valuable. The insights can be offered as value-add feature to build relationships or can be monetized to create added revenue streams.

Actionable advice
If you manufacture products which require maintenance or service, now is the time to review your IT solutions and consider how you can deploy digital technologies to gain an important competitive edge. The highly efficient service operation offers an important way to become well-aligned with the customer and a chance to build greater loyalty. Technology can help you increase your operational abilities, while adding the advanced value-add features customers expect.