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Industrial Businesses Should Use Self-Service Tools To Give Customers What They Want

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By Bashar Elayyan

Senior Business Consultant

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For many manufacturers and industrial companies, customer service and support has always been a significant cost center.

Whether pre- or post-sales, typical B2B customer interactions are more time-intensive and complex than business-to-consumer interactions.

But at the same time, we also know that B2B customers want the convenience of more self-service options when engaging industrial websites and portals. With more industrial buyers preferring to use self-service digital tools, it’s also no surprise the top pain point for business buyers is slow interactions with their suppliers.

“Sixty percent of B2B customers find buying products online more convenient than going through traditional channels, and 62% prefer to reorder online.”

McKinsey & Company

Indeed, time savings and convenience are the principal reasons why 86% of 1,000 surveyed B2B customers prefer digital self-service tools for reordering rather than talking to a sales rep. Yet, even with most customers preferring self-service interactions with vendors, few companies improve their digital capabilities. McKinsey says only 13% of industrial OEMs offer digital solutions of any kind, and only 10 percent offer online self-service tools for placing reorders.

In our experience with industrial clients, 2021 could turn out to be a breakout year to increase self-service tools investments. Some studies indicate up to 75% of companies will increase their use of digital channels to reach customers this year. The top driver behind this trend is B2B customers are “acting more like consumers” and expect the same 360-degree digital experiences offered by sophisticated B2C companies.

When companies improve their digital service capabilities, evidence shows customer satisfaction levels improve significantly, lowering customer churn by 10% to 20%, increasing the win rate of offers by 20% to 40%, and lowering costs to serve by up to 50%.

But where and how to improve digital capabilities isn’t always so straightforward. For instance, what happens in a situation where both the manufacturer and dealer are engaging customers? How does a customer know where to direct his\her questions? 

For instance, if a Caterpillar prospect visits the company’s website, they can either engage the manufacturer directly or find the closest dealer. Since prospects or customers don’t care who “owns” the customer, industrial businesses must offer the same exceptional digital experience through the dealer or the manufacturer. This means you need to understand their specific wants and needs and their end-to-end journey, from purchasing to support.

8 ideas for improving your company’s digital services

Industrial companies have lagged behind other industries when it comes to providing digital self-service tools, yet in the past few years, businesses have made significant improvements by “borrowing” technology from established brands such as Apple, Disney, Home Depot and others.  

The following are a handful of steps manufacturers can take to create self-service tools that lead to higher customer satisfaction levels and less churn.

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Focus on customer experience; human-centered design principles

According to a Salesforce survey, 84% of customers say a company’s experience is as important as its products and services. That’s why it’s essential for manufacturers to clearly understand customer pain points at every step of the customer journey. The key to building comprehensive customer profiles is data, which helps you create personalized customer experiences to optimize engagement. 

Bottom line: to attract and retain hard-fought customers, manufacturers must cultivate deeper relationships. To be successful, build your strategies around human-centered design principles. For instance, if you’re John Deere, you need to understand there are actual customers/users AND businesses that contact you. For each persona, you must define their needs and detail the customer journeys for new equipment purchases and service and support.

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Create a seamless, frictionless experience across multiple touchpoints

Your goal should be to create a seamless and frictionless process across all platforms or touchpoints whether it’s on the web, a smartphone or in your car. In a truly seamless experience, your profile — and associated account information — travels with you wherever you go. For instance, your vehicle notifies you that it needs service, while your mobile app lets you easily make an appointment. Moreover, when you arrive at the dealership you’re greeted by a service agent who knew you were there with the help of geofencing technology. 

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Funnel customers through efficient self-help experiences

Design your self-help experiences using a tiered or gated approach. In other words, your first gate may offer a few self-service options; and, if those fail then escalate the issues to the dealer or OEM. Cable company Xfinity, for example, has a mobile app that connects to the customer’s home network. If hardware like a DVR or cable modem should fail, a chatbot runs self-diagnostics. If that fails, it moves to other remediation efforts, and if all else fails, it escalates your request and connects you with Xfinity customer technical support.

Add transaction histories to customer profiles

The more you know about your customers, the better off you’ll be in tailoring offers based on past buying behaviors and other factors. This is customer relationship management on steroids. Amazon knows what you buy and how you shop by maintaining comprehensive transaction and browsing histories, which gives the company enough information to serve up relevant product suggestions even in adjacent categories.

If I’m John Deere, for example, I want to know my customers’ geography and growth because that influences what they buy and how we market to them. Yet, if I’m Caterpillar, I want to know if my customer works in the mining or construction industry. The more data you have the more successful you’ll be engaging customers.

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Integrate conversational UX into the digital channel

Driven by AI and automation, modern conversational platforms are powerful and effective. These cutting-edge tools have come a long way from the crude chatbots of yesteryear that required near-perfect speech to be understood. Conversational engines use machine learning and include predictive chat and routing capabilities. KitchenAid, for instance, has built conversational search solutions across several product categories, which guide customers to the products that best suit their needs. 

If you call Apple service, for example, its conversational platform even tells you it can understand complete sentences, which helps it connect you with the right department in less time. Interestingly, users are beginning to have a much higher tolerance for dealing with chatbots or conversational AI. Bank of America, famously began employing a bot within its mobile application. Soon, more than 10 million mobile users activated Erica, the bank’s new voice. A survey of the app’s users found 80% were satisfied with the conversational bot experience, which has the ability to respond by voice or text messages.

Use IoT to nudge customers and provide preemptive intervention

IIoT can improve operating efficiencies at smart factories. If your customer’s factory is outfitted with sensors, they can automatically pinpoint where the problem is and generate a service order. Additionally, IIoT can even predict when a machine could break down through condition monitoring — a feature that increases factory uptime. IDC reports that IoT investments are predicted to reach $1.2 trillion in 2022.

Create white-label solutions dealers can deploy to serve customers

Automobile manufacturers have become leaders in developing so-called white-label technology tools they can tailor for individual dealers. BMW, for example, provides its dealers with a digital tech solution that allows customers to connect with salespeople via chat. The tool provides dealers with unlimited branding latitude. Manufacturers can customize these tools to meet the needs of distributors, manufacturing agents, wholesaler networks or other third parties. 

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Leverage social media platforms, influencers, dedicated channels

Social media is no longer a channel for brand engagement alone. It’s also become a destination for self-help content. Customers feel a sense of accomplishment when they’re able to rectify issues with their own products. 

YouTube has emerged as one of the most popular social media platforms for self-help content when compared to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. On YouTube, customers can view “how-to” videos for troubleshooting or using complex products.

Dell alone has over 20 YouTube channels it uses to educate and help customers. Industrial equipment manufacturer Graco also leverages YouTube to engage contractors, plant managers, distributors and other stakeholders. Social media influencers can also provide value-added content in the form of product and equipment reviews and tips.

Significantly improve your company’s customer satisfaction levels

From creating better customer experiences using human-centered design principles to helping your customers with digital tools on smartphones or laptops, today’s technology-savvy B2B buyers want time-saving, frictionless solutions. But with a meager 13% of OEMs offering digital self-service tools, there is much work to be done.

For manufacturers that want to meet their customers where they’re at with modern self-service digital tools, ROI comes in the form of improved customer satisfaction levels and significantly higher customer retention.


Need to shift to new customer digital solutions?

We can help you achieve your customer experience goals by talking through your challenges with our B2B experts.