This week at the Google Cloud Digital Manufacturer Summit, which can be accessed here, we've been learning about how organizations in the manufacturing industry are investing heavily in data, cloud and AI tools, as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. And one of the key themes emerging from the event is how manufacturers need to shift their focus from just ‘build and supply' towards ‘build, supply and service' - or what Google Cloud is calling the 360 customer experience.
This means manufacturers are no longer a distant third party that the customer never engages with, but rather a service-orientated supplier that engages with the customer throughout the product life cycle. The key is also to build out digital experiences around the product, in order to engage with the buyer continuously.
Some manufacturers already do an excellent job of this - the likes of Apple, for instance - where many wouldn't even necessarily consider them a manufacturer. However, lots of organizations in the sector are still relying on a pure product play in order to win in the market, which is much riskier over the long term for competitiveness.
The benefits of engaging continuously with your customers, delighting them with digital experiences and useful services, means that when the product comes to its end of life, they are more likely to purchase from your organization again. This does however mean that manufacturers need to have a strong focus on customer success, which isn't easy, but it's a far superior strategy when it comes to competitiveness.
Suchitra Bose, Director of Manufacturing Industry Solutions at Google Cloud, said:
I would like to take a moment and focus on the intelligent connected products customer experience journey. If you're selling a coffee machine or a dishwasher, or a fridge, your relationship with your customer does not end after selling the product. The customers are expecting that you will provide software updates. [They want you to] understand the usage pattern and recommend a maintenance service, or send a consumable, as and when required. The shift from the product to as-a-service, an outcomes based model, allows you to deliver personalized and predictive experiences.
Understanding your customer behaviour also allows you increased revenue opportunities.
This is true. Instead of building a product at the lowest margins possible and selling for a one off profit, manufacturers can now use data and digital to provide services that result in recurring revenue. This, as we know from the software-as-a-service industry, is a far more sustainable business model over the long term.
And this is being driven by increased expectations on the part of the customer, particularly around mobile experiences, and by the increased use of digital services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bose said:
Not only that, you're being compared to the best last experience people get on their mobile device. If adding a last minute item to your Instacart delivery was your customer's last experience, that experience on Instacart is your customer's expectation from you. And this translates to experiences across devices - desktop and laptop - and the expectation is not only about the ease of ordering something, but also getting the confirmation on pricing and delivery date.
One more thing has changed during COVID-19, and now there is no more 9 to 5. The lines between work and life have truly emerged, which means your customers are always in the product discovery phase and ready to place an order, as per their convenience. And that means you, as a seller, need to be present across devices and across channels.
But the move to Google Cloud's ‘360 experience' is more than about just digital services, according to Bose. It's also about using data to personalize those services and learn what your customers need, when they need it. Bose points to Google's own services as an example of what this could look like. She said:
When you are planning to make a road trip, Google Maps provides you with various route options. So, if there is construction happening, it suggests an alternative way. And I would call that ‘the moment of precise insight', which is personalized to me. This is exactly what your customers are looking for: hyper personalization, on demand, and omnipresent.
Of course Google Cloud itself offers a number of services for its customers that can help build out these experiences - and whilst there's obviously other providers in the market - Bose did provide a useful example of how companies should be thinking about this services based approach. She said:
Just imagine a chemical company. A customer searches Google for a solution to an adhesive problem, and sees the Google ad for a chemical company product. Interested in the product, the customer clicks through the chemical company website, and they want to connect to an expert to understand the product.
Directly from the chemical company's website, the customer messages the sales, and the marketing team saying: ‘Hey, I'm interested in this product'. They start chatting with a chatbot, and very soon are offered a Google Meet session. And the customer connects with the salesperson, on the spot.
The salesperson discusses the customer needs and offers to share two different documents, via Google Docs, and they agree to discuss further next week and reserve a time using Google Calendar to book an appointment during the middle of the week. The customer and sales exchange questions and answers about various options and volumes and a week later the customer has received a sample.
Then the salesperson and the customer use Meet to discuss the sample and finalize the order using Google Cloud solutions, which you can integrate to your back end systems and provide order confirmation, as well as tracking information to your client. Then you can basically provide maintenance, service, as well as consumables, if and when required.
Bose's example is obviously very Google-centric, but it does give a clear idea of how manufacturers could be engaging with customers using digital services. This is in stark contrast to how manufacturers have traditionally existed further down the supply chain or relied on one off purchases via physical outlets. None of this is easy, however. It requires a sophisticated approach to data use, teams to build and run digital services, as well as a strong focus on customer success. The customer success piece is particularly important - and particularly challenging. It requires not only a huge cultural shift internally, but also for processes and tools to be put in place to support customers continuously. Building a great product is one thing, building a great product and providing a great service is another.