Who would you say is more loyal than your trusty family dog? What if I told you there's a digital "secret sauce" to fostering such intimate, loyalty-based relationships with your customers ...?
Recently, I presented a talk at FABTECH* in Las Vegas on growth strategies for manufacturers. My topic was how to develop closer relationships with satisfied customers (and prospective customers) to build a more loyal following, repeat business and referrals.
The FABTECH show is huge — with close to 40,000 attendees and nearly 2,000 exhibitors — and it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. But I was pleasantly suprised at how many people sought me out after my session. Obviously, the message struck a chord with the manufacturing companies in attendance. Here are some of the highlights.
How do today's savvy manufacturers get the greatest value from their customers?
Nurturing customer relationships online! Why? Business-to-consumer (B2C) online retailers or “e-tailers” have set a high level of expectations from all consumers around the world. Business-to-business (B2B) companies can enjoy some of the same return on investment (ROI) with simple technology adaptations.
Instill loyalty with improved customer experience
You can extend the lifetime value of your customers to your business by delivering all the access to you and your products that they need — and want. Online and via mobile devices.
Streamline operations and improve workflow
Ensure your customers (and all of your business partners) have direct self-service, 24/7 access, from anywhere in the world. Integrating your enterprise resource planning (ERP) software with online sales and customer service creates operational efficiencies. Information flows both ways, seamlessly, versus manual double-entry activity. Customers are gratified immediately.
Give customers access to all Product information
You can deliver all of your company's product information — that's normally maintained in your ERP database — easily and in an attractive way, online. Best of all, you maintain the data in the ERP, it flows to your Web Portal at the same time.
Give your customers the tools they need to manage themselves
Allow customers to do self-service product research and download documentation, view their own history and pending orders. You'll save valuable one-on-one staff resources typically required for customer education.
Incorporate your customer-specific pricing into the customer's experience. Your ERP already has the discounts associated with specific customers. When those customers log in, allow them to see the final cost of products after their specific discount. Additionally, if your company offers other special discounts (volume discounts, for example) allow the site to calculate those as well. This makes your customer's tasks easier, and it serves as a great tool to help them do a better job.
Allow your customers to build a cart of products, then save the cart or export the cart to a PDF for review and approval. Customers can save multiple carts to their account and make them active when needed.
Let your customers create their own Sales Orders
Customer self-service leads to improved upsells and cross-sells with automation tools such as these.
Empower your customers to manage their own Account
Save your staff time and your profitability by delivering easy ways for customers to take care of themselves.
That's the foundation, but the real world can be much more complex. For example, here are some screenshots of a new Web Portal we're working on for a complex B2B and B2C customer. This particular customer manufactures speciality bike components. Not only do they offer a line of pre-made products, but they allow customers to "assemble" parts on the site and submit work orders. Because their products are complex and the range of variety in the bicycle market is broad, we've built tools that will assist customers in "designing" the perfect fitting component with the FitFinder tool.
Lots of other complex features should be top-of-mind for manufacturers with online customer service and sales, such as
- Shipping rules — examples: shipping options and requiring insurance
- Inventory rules — examples: not all buyers impact inventory and out of inventory may be shown only to select customer types
- Shipping estimates — based on product type
- Assemble to Order
To sum up, manufacturers can accommodate their special needs with a flexible online system such as xTupleCommerce, the Customer Sales & Service Web Portal. It is possible for manufacturers to leverage digital technology to enhance their customer relationships for greater intimacy and deliver bottom line profits through improved efficiency and customer loyalty.
* FABTECH is North America's Largest Metal Forming, Fabricating, Welding and Finishing event.
Photo credit: "It truly is a dog's life" by Matt Deavenport on Flickr