Lizzie Lawson
Senior Strategist

New research from ORM & Acquia has identified customer experience as a “top priority” for the manufacturing sector in 2019.


Almost three-quarters (73%) of the manufacturers we surveyed told us they planned to switch from a product-centric to customer-centric business model this year. This is because customer experience is more important than ever.


As commoditisation across the manufacturing industry increases, differentiating by product isn’t always possible. According to our research even existing customers’ loyalty is challenged when it comes down to price. In fact, a third of manufacturers we questioned believed that their customers are less loyal than they were five years ago.


Identifying the importance of customer experience is the first step, but it can be tough changing focus from products to customers. In manufacturing industries one-to-one relationships with customers are unbeatable, which means the benefits of digital to customer-centricity can be overlooked.


However, improving the digital customer experience isn’t about replacing those one-to-one relationships, it’s about augmenting them.


Digital can support relationships with existing customers by taking away the mundane jobs that frustrate customers and manufacturers. It can enable clearer communication and give manufacturers more chance to show off their expertise, support their customers and develop relationships.


Here are just three of the ways manufacturers can offer a better customer experience through digital:


Self-service and e-learning portals

Self-service portals are a space where manufacturers can personalise the experience for their customers based on the customer’s individual needs. Via a login, customers can access content like reports, test results, machinery documentation, order history, or proprietary online tools and configurators.


Portals let customers easily access information that is relevant to them, at any time of the day. They can replace endless searching for emails, phone calls to request copies of documents, and they can let customers share information readily with their colleagues.


Creating a self-service portal means that customers and manufacturers get more time to do what they’re good at, and that support staff will be able to focus on giving expert advice and developing relationships with customers further, instead of fielding basic information requests.


In some cases these portals can evolve to offer e-learning courses for customers, which is especially popular with distributors. Not only does it add value to the manufacturer’s brand, it also helps distributors sell your products with greater expertise.


Portals also solve a big problem for some manufacturers: really knowing their customers. For manufacturers who primarily use distributors, they can often end up not knowing who is buying their products or what customers think of their products. Providing a personalised portal that offers value to customers if they sign up, will allow those manufacturers to get a much deeper insight into customers they may never have known otherwise.


Customer-facing websites

Websites are often seen as the “shop front” of a business and while there’s no doubt that websites are useful sales tools, they can serve existing customer needs equally well.


For existing customers, websites can offer functionality like:

  • Product documentation for current and discontinued products
  • Guidance on maintenance and tutorials for less-skilled customers
  • Thought leadership content to develop customers’ understanding of the industry


Sharing this content with customers is another good way to minimise frustration (and cost) on both sides.


For customers, it means they don’t have to spend time searching for manuals and data sheets that may have long since disappeared. It also means they can skill-up their teams and ensure their products last a long time thanks to proper maintenance; and it means they can stay up-to-date with industry changes that will affect their business. 


For manufacturers it means reducing call centre costs as skilled staff don’t have to spend time digging out old product information, longer-lasting products lead to a better reputation with customers, and thought leadership content improves perception of the brand as an industry leader.


Unifying CRM using digital

It’s not all about customer-facing digital properties, using tech to improve customer relationship management can give a huge boost to customer retention too.


A lot of manufacturers are using legacy CRMs that aren’t fit for purpose in a digital world. When customers had one point of contact with a manufacturer, it was easier to keep track of their requests, their orders, and their needs. Nowadays there are more ways for customers to interact, and manufacturer’s CRMs need to adapt accordingly to get a unified customer view.


For example, if a customer goes to an event, uses a website contact form, logs in to their customer portal and calls their account manager in the same week, the CRM needs to record that. This gives the account manager a complete view of customer activity, so they can advise and support them straight away.


Well-planned digital development can enable this customer view. A CRM can unite all customer touch-points and connect the data, so everything unites into one hub, creating a single customer view.


So what does that mean for manufacturers?

Our research shows manufacturers plan to switch to a more customer-centric view, but the challenges in doing that can be intimidating. Digital can enable this change in focus in so many ways, usually augmenting customer touch-points and not completely replacing them.