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Top 9 Trends in Manufacturing Customer Service in 2021

Fueling Business Growth by Transforming Your Approach to Customer Service

Manufacturers are great at building things. However, manufacturers today are faced with a new challenge that isn’t always in their wheelhouse — building a winning, next-generation customer service program.

Why?

Before we dive into a deeper exploration of some of the most important reasons, let’s consider some key stats and takeaways from Salesforce’s “State of Service” report, which shares powerful insights generated through a global survey of over 3,500 customer service professionals and decision makers.

Takeaways

Salesforce summarizes its findings with three key points:

  • Faced with ever-rising customer standards for fast, personalized and connected engagement, customer service professionals have a completely different mandate than in the past.
  • The C-suite has taken notice of how leading-edge service can drive elevated customer experiences and new revenue streams.
  • As a result, service leaders are investing in their people, processes and technology to drive nothing short of a transformation.

Stats

  • 82% of service decision makers say their company’s customer service must transform in order to stay competitive.
  • 84% of decision makers are prioritizing improved or expanded mobile service as part of this transformation.

Defining mobile service workers as front-line field service people who interact with customers in the field, the Salesforce survey emphasizes the idea that equipping them with advanced capabilities is essential to the ongoing evolution of customer service.

Below, we’ll explore key trends, strategies and questions to ask to help your organization position itself as one that is known not just for its products and services, but for its industry-leading ability to deliver “customer success.”

The Growing Importance of Customer Service in Manufacturing

Before we dive into manufacturing customer service trends, just a few more relevant customer service statistics.

  • 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services (Salesforce).
  • 60% of customers have stopped doing business with a brand due to a poor customer service experience (Microsoft).

Statistics like these, perhaps bolstered by your own instincts about the growing importance of customer service, make a compelling case for taking action when it comes to reimagining your approach to customer service.

However, as the Salesforce State of Service report emphasizes, “Transforming a department that has historically been viewed as a necessary cost center into a strategic asset is no easy task.”

The good news is that you probably have most of the components already in place to build an enhanced customer service infrastructure that will help you stay ahead of your competition!

Top Manufacturing Customer Service Trends

Here are several of the most important current trends related to manufacturing customer service.

1. More companies are moving toward “performance-based contracts.”

In this scenario, applicable to both hardware and software companies, customers are less concerned with “buying equipment” and more focused on “buying results.” On the software side, which has been moving to Software as a Service (SaaS) models for some time now, this means ongoing subscription contracts rather than one-time software purchase.

For equipment manufacturers, this can mean greater demand for usage-based pricing and renting or leasing machines rather than purchasing them outright, which can also be an opportunity for locking in longer contracts. The industry-wide shift to “as-a-service” business models is now being referred to as XaaS.

2. New customer service channels are changing the game.

Phone, email and on-site support will always be essential aspects of customer service. And while newer customer service channels like live chat and chatbots may seem more applicable to B2C relationships than B2B, they are increasingly being used by manufacturers as well.

According to the Manufacturing section of the Salesforce study results, 24% of decision makers currently use artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots at their organization and 33% are planning to use them within 18 months.

3. Manufacturers are delivering faster, smarter service with new technologies.

Many manufacturers have made incredible strides in successfully leveraging the connective power of the Internet of Things (IoT), and industry applications for AI have also been on the rise.

Now there is also increasing focus on the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to increase operational efficiencies and expand “hands-on” field service capabilities — especially important in light of heightened awareness around physical distancing necessitated by COVID-19.  The potential for manufacturers and field service technicians to guide customers in collaborating on solving on-site issues raises new possibilities.

4. To win and keep customers, more manufacturers are prioritizing deeper customer relationships.

The bottom line here is: The better you know your customers — the more time and effort you invest in developing a deeper understanding of their most important business objectives — the better you will be able to help contribute to their current and future success. Of course, the value of having key customers perceive you as not just a supplier but as a trusted advisor speaks for itself.

5. New customer service metrics are being prioritized.

With greater attention to performance-based customer relationships and “outcome-based service” models, there is also a move to discover and put in place new customer service metrics — specifically a shift away from metrics that measure how your agents process complaints to those that measure “customer happiness” and even “customer success.”

One significant trend here is the idea of better aligning your own KPIs with those of your customers. Examples include: production output, equipment uptime, time to market of the customer’s new products, quality and failure metrics, etc.

But how do you measure your effectiveness at aligning the goals of customer and supplier? Part of the answer is by asking key questions that connect to the idea of customer success. For example:

  • To what extent does the manufacturer/service provider bring a “how can I help” mindset to each encounter?
  • How flexible is the company in responding to changes in your situation?
  • To what extent does the manufacturer/service provider make an extra effort to understand your business objectives?
  • To what extent does the company help you to achieve your business goals?

6. Mobile workers are increasingly becoming the face of their brands.

This is actually one of the chief takeaways highlighted in the Salesforce “State of Service” Report, which emphasized that 89% of customer service decision makers say the experience a customer has with a mobile worker is a reflection of their brand. Additionally, 80% agree that mobile service drives significant revenue, with 79% saying it provides new revenue streams.

According to Salesforce, one of the chief ways that top mobile or field service workers differentiate themselves from the competition is their ability to proactively understand customer issues before stepping onsite.

Related reading: 5 Ways Your Field Service Techs Can Create Value for Your Customers

7. More manufacturers are partnering Sales and Service to help grow business.

Respondents to the Salesforce survey also offered insight into the need to better align different departments, in this case Sales and Service, being more important than ever. Survey data reveals that 81% of service professionals now report that they share common goals and metrics with sales teams.

8. More organizations are taking a more comprehensive, team-wide approach to customer service.

With Salesforce and other sources highlighting the momentum toward better aligning different departments that may have previously been siloed, it makes more and more sense for organizations to embrace the philosophy that all team members — not just call center and customer service department specialists but also frontline, technical workers and sales people — should be focused on prioritizing customer service.

9. C-suite decision makers are investing in customer relationship training.

The potential upside of taking an organization-wide approach to customer service has caught the attention of C-suite decision makers. This is reflected in the Salesforce survey, which reports that 78% of service decision makers are making significant investments in customer service training.

Related reading: Customer Experience Training — What It Is and Why You Need It

Manufacturing Customer Service Strategies

Based on the insights revealed in the manufacturing customer service trends detailed above, let’s explore a set of potential strategies to consider for capturing new momentum and business growth.

  1. Reimagine your current customer service standards or establish new ones, with the emphasis on moving past traditional standards and metrics based on “customer satisfaction” to those that help you define, measure and deliver “customer success.”
  2. Get buy-in from your whole team. As noted above, adopting a more comprehensive, team-wide approach to customer service is one of the key pathways to adding value for your customers by focusing not just on their satisfaction (which, of course, will always be important) but on how you can contribute to their overall success.
  3. Make sure you have the right technology in place. Whether its software tools, new communication channels your customers may want, or advanced tech like IoT sensors or AR/VR capabilities, it’s important to evaluate your technological profile with an eye toward possible upgrades that could help you help your customers succeed.
  4. Take a fresh look at your KPIs. The key strategy here is to shift your thinking from simply monitoring your traditional manufacturing customer service KPIs to better understanding and prioritizing each customer’s most important KPIs.Related reading: New Field Service KPI: How Well Are You Optimizing Your Customer Relationships?
  5. Set up a knowledge base. Internal resources that help all members of your team solve customer-related issues more quickly and effectively are invaluable. Also, though arguably more applicable to B2C settings than B2B, it may also be worth evaluating whether there are any helpful customer-facing resources you might put in place.
  6. Get more valuable customer feedback. Taking traditional customer feedback surveys and other mechanisms to the next level is central to building your ability to crack the code in moving from a customer satisfaction-based data to information that connects directly to customer success. Most traditional customer satisfaction surveys are not particularly useful; instead, point of contact surveys and informal direct feedback from customers are much more helpful. If you do customer surveys, be sure they clearly link satisfaction levels with actionable improvement areas.
  7. Do some organizational soul-searching. Are there procedures you could put in place to enhance your ability to develop deeper connections to your most important customers? We’ll examine some key questions you could begin asking internally in the next section.
  8. Explore options for enhanced customer relationship training. If some of the trends and strategies discussed here make sense for your organization, consider connecting with a training provider with deep experience and success in working with companies like yours to train key employees in nurturing higher-value customer relationships.

Customer Service Questions Manufacturers Should be Asking Themselves

We’ll leave you some food for thought about the “organizational soul-searching” strategy mentioned above — specifically some questions you may want to ask internally as a framework to begin building customer relationships that position you as a more valuable long-term partner because of your demonstrated ability to help customers achieve their most important goals. Notably, most of these questions focus more on “people” than on “process.”

Questions

  1. What actions could you take to make it easier for your customers to talk to you?
  2. What obstacles stand in the way of your team ensuring that your customers consistently have a high-value, even delightful, experience?
  3. How does the shift toward physical distancing and separation necessitated by COVID-19 impact your ability to help customers succeed?
  4. What are the top three skills that your service people need in order for them to be a trusted partner to your customers?
  5. Do your frontline service people understand your customers’ most important business objectives well enough to help them achieve them?

The answers to questions like these could be the key to unlocking greater value in your most important business relationships. We’ve been helping enterprises successfully use the ideas discussed here to fuel business growth for several decades. For more insight into how we might help your organization, let’s start a conversation today.

 

 

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