Industry Week: Know your customers, industry 4.0 edition

 

This article was originally published in Industry Week

By mining their internal data on pump repairs, Service Pump is now able to predict when a customer’s pump is likely to fail and how much the customer is likely to spend operating a pump in their unique environment. They can also provide customized preventative maintenance plans and schedules to extend the lifetime of their customers’ products.

 

Know your customers, industry 4.0 edition

By Andrew Rieser of Mountain Point

Not so long ago, manufacturing was singularly about making things. Manufacturing companies would develop and create a product, hand it off to a series of distributors or partners, and then collect their cut of the profits. No more.

The Harvard Business Review published a pivotal article in 2010 called “Rethinking Marketing,” in which the authors outlined what used to be standard practice: make a product, find a market for it, and find a way to sell to that market. But, as the article pointed out, this no longer works. Thanks to the “Amazon Effect,” customers expect to interact with companies and shape the products they use.

Though the HBR article was published almost a decade ago, it seems manufacturers are still struggling to catch up to consumer needs and expectations. To ensure long-term success, they must move beyond distribution channels and engage directly with their products’ end users.

Putting customers first might sound obvious, but in many ways it represents a monumental shift in how most companies do business. Too often, manufacturers who invest in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software use it merely as a sales tool for activity tracking rather than what they are built to be: a 360-degree viewpoint of your customers’ experience to help you understand and interact with them better, and make more successful products in the process.

Manufacturers should be using their CRM systems to deliver the four core elements of customer experience: immediacy, personalization, consistency, and anticipation.

Let’s break these down.

Immediacy

Manufacturers have seen first-hand the impact technology can yield on the shop floor. Yet, many still use an old-school approach to customer service, with a handful of staff members answering phone calls on a landline.

But online communities, self-service portals, text messaging systems, social media platforms and chat bots—all enhanced with AI–are now fundamental tools.

Your CRM system should serve as the centralized hub unifying these channels and allowing you to respond quickly–and consistently–regardless of how your customer chooses to communicate.

Your CRM database can also offer you key insight, allowing you to elevate problems to proactively address emerging issues. Seeing a sudden uptick in service calls on a particular product? If these issues are logged properly in your database, you can identify the problem and streamline your response. You might also choose to automatically flag certain issues or problems with key accounts for a quick response by a manager. This sort of prioritizing allows your leadership team to prioritize their work and move quickly to ensure the satisfaction of top clients.

Personalization

In addition to expecting near immediate responses, customers still want manufacturers to deliver the personalized service one might expect from the old mom-and-pop shops of days gone by. Did I mention customers’ standards are high?

Fortunately, automation and artificial intelligence offer companies the ability to virtually clone their customer service teams and deliver highly personalized service quickly and at scale.

But no one likes talking to a robot or feeling like they’re just one of thousands to receive the same message. So employing these tools successfully takes a thoughtful and strategic approach.

When implementing any technology, I always recommend starting with your people, then examining your processes. Automated and AI tools should be carefully crafted and authentic extensions of your company culture and brand.

In other words, think about the characteristics and practices of your most successful customer service agent. Often,  it’s the little touches like remembering a customer’s buying history or the problems they’ve recently worked to solve.

Or maybe even something as simple as sending a note of congratulations when they achieve a major business milestone.

Once you’ve identified those key touchpoints, you can map strategies for replicating that level of personalization by building out your CRM database and automating considerate, authentic communication.

Consistency

Most manufacturers started out providing the sort of personalization and expediency outlined above, but were unable to keep up as their businesses grew.

In attempting to meet the unique needs of their customers, many manufacturers have accommodated highly personalized requests and customized their pricing, procedures or processes to meet the needs of specific customers. Easy enough to do when your customer base is small, but over time this lack of consistency becomes a nightmare.

Fortunately, we now have the ability to harness data to gain clear insights into our processes and outcomes and begin sifting through the mess we’ve created (I’ve been there!) as we’ve worked to grow our businesses.

Start with taking a look at who your customers are and sorting them into tiers. I’ve found the 80/20 rule to be extremely helpful. In most cases, 80% of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers. Find the 20% that is offering you the most value and identify them as “key accounts” or “top customers.” These people deserve your constant attention, individualized service, and some flexibility in the way they do business with you.

The remaining 80% of your customer base is, of course, important, but it doesn’t make sense to continue offering them the level of personalization and customization of your top customers.

Revisit your processes and agreements in working with this tier of customers, and find ways to streamline, standardize, and automate your interactions with them. Putting in place consistent pricing structures, service level agreements, and communications processes with these customers will help you more effectively and efficiently serve them while freeing up time for platinum level support for your top accounts.

 Anticipation

Think back to the “Amazon Effect” I mentioned earlier. Amazon does a great job of predicting its customers’ needs based on their past order history. Chances are, if you’ve ordered standard household items–let’s say, paper towels—from Amazon in the past, you’ll start seeing notifications about reordering right around the time you’re about to run out.

Other retailers have taken this a step further. One British grocery chain, for example, sends coupons for beer to male customers who purchase diapers—because they know these customers aren’t able to go to the pub as often with an infant at home!

This level of anticipation and proactive service doesn’t have to be limited to the B2C realm. Take, for example, Service Pump & Supply, an industrial provider of water transfer and management systems. By mining their internal data on pump repairs, Service Pump is now able to predict when a customer’s pump is likely to fail and how much the customer is likely to spend operating a pump in their unique environment. They can also provide customized preventative maintenance plans and schedules to extend the lifetime of their customers’ products.

But service quality like this is only as good as the data you maintain. New roles and responsibilities are necessary to tackle a master data management strategy, building governance, and mining your data for meaningful insights. A strong business analyst or data scientist will be a rising role in the manufacturing space.

All of this adds up to an exciting new world for manufacturers. For the first time in our history, we have the ability to deliver deeply personalized services and products at an enterprise level.  Now is not the time to be intimidated by change — let’s embrace this opportunity to provide better, faster service at scale.

Andrew Rieser is president and co-founder of Mountain Point, a digital transformation consulting firm specializing in the manufacturing sector. He has nearly two decades of experience in designing and implementing digital business processes.

Exponent Telegram: Service Pump uses technology to transform its business

HUNTINGTON — When you go online and order from Amazon, you get quick delivery of the product you want.

But Amazon does more than that. It uses your order history to offer other items you might like or need. Sometimes it even suggests products that might work better than the one you bought last time. You can even set up auto delivery of consumable items to be shipped to you just as you need them — before you run out.

Now, Service Pump & Supply is using the same technology to offer better, faster and lower-cost service to its customers.

 

“I don’t feel like we’re doing anything that’s exotic,” said Patrick Farrell, the company’s president. “We’re just doing things that are now commonplace in e-commerce, but haven’t been done before in the industries where we operate.”

Founded in 1980, Service Pump is a Huntington-based industrial products company that works in the world of oil and gas, mining, industrial and municipal water management. It operates five branches in four states, selling pumps, motors and other supplies.

If there’s a water project going on somewhere in the region, there’s a good chance Service Pump has a piece of it, said Farrell.

Today, Service Pump’s computerized system tracks customers’ orders and stores away information collected when it services or fixes that equipment. Then the company uses that data to offer customers insight into how to streamline their supply chain — and save money. Read the full story »

InformationWeek: Pumping up the SPS Customer Experience with Kenandy

SPS customer experiences have radically changed. SPS was serving one customer in particular recently that had hired SPS to conduct 100 pump repair calls to a variety of production sites. Because SPS now has all of the customer data in one accessible place (which can be viewed via a mobile device), SPS employees were able to provide the customer with details about why the repairs kept happening, which crews (of the customer) were on site when equipment kept breaking, the type of equipment that was causing the problem, etc. This level of insight and detail had not been experienced before by their customer and the customer was able to make changes to their business based on the data.

Published in InformationWeek

by Ben Kepes

The Amazon experience isn’t just for consumer-facing applications. Imagine what it can do for a traditional company.

It’s always nice to hear from an end-user of technology products that I’ve been writing about for years. While it is squarely in the job description of a vendor’s marketing executive to articulate just how perfect their solution is pumping up the customer experience with SPS and Kenandy every possible use case, actual customers tend to be more circumspect and to only wax poetic about the solutions that actually deliver benefits to them. And so, I’m always interested in hearing from these end users and exploring how their particular solution-set meets there needs.

And so it is with Service Pump & Supply, a West Virginia-based company that sells motors, pumps, and accessories to a sector that, let’s face it, is often viewed as an old-school industry — oil and gas, coal and mining companies. While this is one business that many would categorize as “boring,” that doesn’t mean in any way that it’s an unimportant one. Indeed, SPS got a call a few days after Hurricane Irma to ship a bunch of pumps down to Florida to help with cleanup, a critical part of the chain of relief.

Anyway, despite being a traditional business, SPS is well aware that the times are changing and had a desire to offer its customers a new type of experience, one which they might be used to with their consumer experiences, but not one they traditionally think of coming from their more conventional suppliers.

The CEO of SPS, Patrick Farrell, recognized this subtle demand for “Amazon-like” experiences and decided to jump on that demand to gain a competitive advantage. He could see the writing on the wall — his customers wanted simple processes, instant help, user-friendly technology, access to historical data for purchasing decisions, low prices, and instant or rapid delivery of products/equipment. The fact that customers were ordering pumps and motors didn’t deter them from wanting slick and sophisticated technology interfaces from their vendors. It’s not just the hip millennials who want experiences that are as easy as those with their favorite social network. Read the full story »