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The Ultimate Guide to Customer Service in the Manufacturing Industry

May 31, 2021
  |  
Customer Service
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8 min read
customer-service-manufacturing

Today’s manufacturing industries don’t operate in the same way as they did even until a few years ago. Advancements in automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data have made manufacturing industries smarter. Modern manufacturing plants can now capture and harness large volumes of data generated from all their various processes.

The advancements in technology have also led to the creation of a connected ecosystem between manufacturers and consumers. This has, in turn, led to the creation of a new category of consumers and business buyers. Consumers today are more aware than ever of the choices that are available to them and will not hesitate to take their business elsewhere if they feel that their needs aren’t getting met.

Table of Contents

The need for customer service in manufacturing

To live up to the higher expectations of the new age consumer, manufacturers must not only leverage technology to deliver high-quality products, but also use it effectively to deliver high-quality customer experiences.

As we established earlier, today’s consumers are more empowered and connected than ever. Adding to this, according to Salesforce’s ‘Revolutionizing Customer Service in Manufacturing’ report, 52% of executives surveyed from manufacturing companies state that they are finding it increasingly difficult to compete based on product quality alone.

Among the same group, a whopping 86% of executives now believe that customer service can now be a key differentiator.

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Customer service as a differentiator in manufacturing | Salesforce research

Customer service in manufacturing is no longer a value-add but a necessity. Adopting a more customer-centric approach and delivering personalized service can help manufacturing companies win over new customers and retain existing ones.

Consider the example of the UK-based manufacturing company – Get It Made. Get It Made, headquartered in London, works with several factories worldwide to provide clients with simple and cost-effective solutions to their complex and bespoke manufacturing requirements. Get It Made’s clientele primarily comprises high-value, low-volume industries such as aerospace, medical, R&D, etc.

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One of Get It Made’s manufacturing facilities in the UK | Get It Made

Get It Made was established in the UK in 2011. By 2019, with the growth of the company and the client base, they soon realized that customer communication was no longer efficient and that their customer service had taken a huge hit. There were several instances of missed emails, duplication in communication, back and forth between team members leading to delayed deliveries and unhappy customers.

That’s when Luke Smoothy, the founder of Get It Made, decided to go back to the drawing board and take a customer service-oriented approach to put an end to the chaos.

Get It Made picked Hiver to help them achieve customer service excellence. With Hiver, they were able to streamline communication and workflows, keep track of critical customer and project-related information, and most importantly, have access to real-time customer service metrics.

A combination of all these benefits has helped Get It Made get the edge over their competitors. Here’s what Fin Brown, Project Manager at Get It Made, UK has to say:

“The UK manufacturing industry can sometimes have a reputation for being slow and difficult to communicate with. Hiver has allowed us to break this stereotype, and customers have described us as a ‘breath of fresh air’ with our excellent customer service.”

Benefits of adopting a customer service oriented approach to manufacturing

The benefits of adopting a customer-centric approach in manufacturing go far beyond retaining customers and winning over new ones. Putting in place a customer service-oriented culture can lead to a transformation at almost every level in the organization.

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More manufacturing companies are now investing in customer service | Sysfore

In fact, according to Sysfore, a smart services consulting firm, 68% of their client base in the manufacturing sector has increased their budgets over the last two years to focus on customer service.

So, why are they doing this? Let’s take a closer look.

Higher repeat business

Dedicated customer service plays a critical role in customer happiness. Most manufacturing companies today work on a performance-based contract model, wherein a large company often outsources their production to smaller, dedicated firms. These contracts are then renewed depending on the performance of the manufacturer.

It is only natural that businesses that are more invested in their clients are likely to perform better and thus receive contract renewals.

By leveraging technology, manufacturers can now collect an immense amount of data, both on their clients and their internal processes. This data is extremely valuable to help develop a deeper understanding of their customers, build stronger relationships, and improve their process efficiency and output.

And these can lead to repeat business and perhaps even an opportunity to upsell.

Better alignment between production teams and sales teams

When we’re looking at the manufacturing industry from the lens of efficiency and profitability, it’s pretty evident that if there are two departments that need to be aligned, they are production and sales.

By investing in customer service and the right technology stack, manufacturers can now get a 360-degree view of their customers. On the sales front, this can help them identify opportunities, be proactive, and generate more revenue.

On the production side of things, they can better predict their production pipelines, thus reducing wastage and cutting down overhead costs, leading to a leaner, more efficient, and more profitable enterprise.

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The Lean Manufacturing Model | Lean IT – UCSF

So it is fairly evident that the only way to future-proof your manufacturing business is to adopt a customer service-oriented mindset.

But how do you go about doing that?

The answer lies in adopting some of these customer service best practices.

Customer service best practices for manufacturing industries

Some of these best practices include:

Adding new customer service channels

Because of the traditional nature of manufacturing industries, onsite support and phone will continue to remain critical channels of customer service.

However, Digitization is making its presence felt in manufacturing, which has led to the emergence of new customer service channels. More customers now expect manufacturers to be available instantaneously via email, live chat, and live video-based support for remote diagnostics and resolution.

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Live video-based troubleshooting | Manufacturing Automation

Leveraging advanced technology

In addition to leveraging technology like AI, IoT, and Big Data, manufacturers must also direct their attention to the use of other forms of technology like VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) to improve “hands-on” field service capabilities.

Manufacturers can deploy AR/VR technology to collaborate with their customers and help them diagnose issues remotely and fix them without the presence of field service technicians.

To extrapolate this use case further, manufacturers can even establish regular training sessions for their customers on using their equipment better, conveying information about upgrades to the equipment, all without ever needing to be physically present.

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Using VR technology as a game-changer in manufacturing customer service | CMTC

Allowing your customers to self-serve

While we have spoken about the need for customer service to be more people-oriented, there are times when your customers may want to solve simple problems faster, without any kind of human interaction.

In such situations, having resources that allow your customers to self-serve is invaluable. Creating a comprehensive knowledge base can help your customers find information, troubleshoot problems, and resolve them, all without your customer service team having to step in.

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Sphero – a manufacturer of robotics kits maintains a knowledge base

As a step forward, you can even choose to build an e-commerce website that helps your customers order spare parts and consumables directly from you. In this way, you ensure that your customers receive the right kind of parts and consumables that they need, without delays/back and forth.

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Sphero’s e-commerce portal allows users to buy spares and consumables directly

Taking a data-driven approach to customer service

The key idea here is to move away from traditional manufacturing KPIs (example: Production Volume, Asset Utilization, Operations Effectiveness, etc.) to a more holistic approach, which combines them with customer service KPIs like Customer Satisfaction Score, Response and Resolution Times, Net Promoter Score (NPS), etc.

Using a help desk tool to track these customer service metrics can help establish a customer service-oriented mindset, help you get an accurate picture of where you are, and what you can do to improve on these metrics to keep your customers happy.

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A snapshot of analytics in Hiver

Breaking the silos

Manufacturing companies have been traditionally siloed. But with the need to deliver exceptional customer service, it makes more sense to break the silos and embrace the philosophy that all team members — not just customer service specialists, but sales teams, marketers, project managers, technical workers — develop a customer-first mentality.

C-suite executives of manufacturing firms can take charge by laying out organization-wide goals and objectives and investing in customer service training for all departments to ensure that all teams are on the same page.

And finally, collecting customer feedback

Always ask your customers for feedback after every interaction. This way, you’ll be updated in real-time about how happy your customers are with your services.

Collecting customer feedback can also identify lapses, rework your processes and quickly nip them in the bud before they snowball.

Wrapping up

In a highly competitive industry like manufacturing, and in times where it can cost almost 5 to 25 times more to acquire a new customer than retain existing ones, it is evident that companies need to make customer service a priority.

And for relatively traditional industries, this would mean stepping out of the comfort zone, re-evaluating processes and technology, and trying completely new approaches to see what works best.

So take some time to do a little bit of “organizational soul-searching” and put together a framework to see where you can begin. As with most things that need scale, these will take a considerable amount of time and money, but with smaller experiments, you can chart out a longer course to deliver customer satisfaction.

Hiver HQ
Tejas Kinger is a Product Marketing Manager at Hiver. Passionate about tech, startups, and all things SaaS. Say hello on Twitter (@TejasKinger).
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