Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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Why manufacturers must connect with customers

Manufacturing must go beyond making products. Here’s why


October 22, 2019
By Dave Borelli

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Manufacturing management connects with customers

As a customer, you probably feel an affinity to some brands more than others. It could be the clever branding or customer service that draws you in. Your connection with the company is also influenced by the structure of that company.

For manufacturers, the distance between the product and the customer can be significant. The relationship is generally handled by the retailer, but manufacturers can get back in the game – and closer to their customers – with the right tools.

This represents a shift in manufacturing and a great opportunity for today’s manufacturers. Driven by advances in cloud, social, mobile, internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, by 2020, there will be 40 billion IoT-connected devices in the world sending trillions of signals daily into the cloud, according to Gartner.

According to Salesforce’s recent research study, Future Ready: Advancing Canadian Business in the Digital Economy, Canadian manufacturing businesses anticipate a 32 per cent increase in IoT-connected devices over the next three years. Yet, behind every one of those products, sensors and signals, is a customer.

For the manufacturing industry, it’s not enough to simply add sensors to products. Companies must start with customers and leverage the data they generate to change business processes, organizational structures and strategy.

The legacy of legacy systems

Manufacturers often have complex legacy systems in place that don’t lend themselves to integration. Often, data is dispersed all over the company and sales reps, especially those in the field, have a hard time viewing it. However, 49 per cent of Canadian manufacturers say that an increased use of technology has given them a leg up on competitors.

While this is one of the many advantages to upgrading, sharing information across systems and devices can have a profound impact on your customer experience. Reps, like consumers, do a lot of their personal and professional business on their mobile devices. To streamline and speed up communication between stakeholders, sales reps have to have the information in-hand.

Today, manufacturers have the potential to know far more about their customers — and how they use their products — than ever before. The smarter ones have recognized this, and are leveraging that data to drive value and a competitive edge by moving from providing services to predictive services.

Every worker is encouraged to flag any activity that has affected their productivity to ensure the team is constantly improving to deliver the best possible experience.

Providing a service? Focus on the customer

Regardless of the company, product type or industry, there’s one common truth, moving from selling products to providing services, and using data, helps build a more direct relationship with customers. This is not a technological challenge — it’s shifting the mindset of an entire business from focusing on making products to connecting with customers.

Today, customer experience is the key differentiator for every industry, especially manufacturers. A fact that Edmonton-based manufacturer, Innovator Industrial, knows well. As a provider of specialty services across maintenance, turnarounds, inspections, fabrication and construction phases, attracting, winning and retaining customers is a priority.

The team began its digitization journey in 2012, when Innovator Industrial had just 15 full-time employees. Over this time, the team has developed more than 100 apps ranging from team optimization and meeting planning to training and project delivery. Digitizing these processes has provided the entire team with greater insights and actionable data, allowing them to reduce the average time for raising an invoice from 36 days to 30 minutes and a sales-win rate of 95 per cent.

And for Innovator Industrial, it doesn’t stop there. Every member is encouraged to flag any activity that has affected their productivity – whether it’s a late delivery, or lack of information – to ensure the team is constantly improving to deliver the best possible experience.

The path forward

For manufacturers today, building services to complement product offerings is table stakes. Manufacturers must incorporate metrics such as customer satisfaction, churn rate and monthly recurring revenue, to measure the depth and quality of customer relationships, helping all departments, customer facing or otherwise, align around the customer. By harnessing the power of technology and intelligent data to focus on customer outcomes – and delivering unique value as a result – manufacturers can truly thrive in the age of the customer.

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Dave Borelli is area vice-president of Salesforce Canada.

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.