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In a sea of challenges, CX can help manufacturers turn the tide

Andrew Lawson Profile picture for user Andrew Lawson May 2, 2023
Andy Lawson forecasts a sunny outlook for manufacturers investing in the customer experience to thrive despite uncertainty. Take a look at the opportunities highlighted in the latest CX Trends Report from Zendesk.

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(© Gannvector - Shutterstock)

Right now, manufacturers could be forgiven for focusing on challenges. Disruption caused by the pandemic and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine is making it harder than ever to manage the flow of goods across their value chain – both in terms of getting their products into the hands of customers and in receiving key materials and components from their suppliers. Meanwhile, soaring interest rates, a global energy crisis and a shortage of skilled labor are adding to the pressure on firms across the UK.

Yet, encouragingly, the industry is by no means getting caught up in doom and gloom. A recent study by the Manufacturing Alliance found that most manufacturing CEOs believe the supply chain challenges that have beset the last couple of years are improving. Meanwhile, Zendesk's own 2023 CX Trends report reveals an industry determined not just to survive the current uncertainty but to thrive in it too.

The road to growth

For many manufacturers, a key driver on this road to growth is customer experiences (CX). The Zendesk report found that 74% of UK manufacturing leaders have seen a positive return on investment for their CX budget in the last year – a notable outlier at a time when most other operating and capital costs have reached unprecedented levels. Consequently, 79% believe that delivering great CX has become essential to achieving their goals and 78% see enhancing their interactions with customers as a vital part of staying competitive.

And not just when the going is good either. Experts widely agree that the unstable economic climate will be here for some time yet but, tellingly, 77% of manufacturing companies expect to increase their CX investment during the next 12 months. The majority even say that providing excellent customer service becomes more important in an economic downturn and that using it to boost business resilience should be a top priority for their business – 76% and 79% respectively.

But what, in particular, is powering this renewed focus on CX among UK manufacturers? And, crucially, how can they build on the progress so far to truly seize the opportunities it offers around customer relationships, operational efficiency and cost-savings? Zendesk CX Trends report identifies several key areas. Let's take each of them in turn.

AIming high

The first is AI. Here, you only need to look at the recent rise of tools like ChatGPT to appreciate the transformative impact this rapidly advancing technology is having – and will continue to have. For manufacturers, though, there is both excitement and trepidation. In the UK, 78% of industry leaders say the performance of AI and chatbots has increased significantly over the past 12 months, getting more natural and human-like. And in general, AI experiences are becoming more evolved and seamless.

However, its true potential is yet to be realized by the industry, with 55% of manufacturing leaders worrying their organization is lagging in their use of AI and chatbots and 59% concerned their approach so far has been ad hoc rather than strategic. Positively, though, they also recognize the need to rectify this, with 74% of leaders claiming that expanding their use of AI and chatbots in CX is an important priority for 2023.  Doing so will have significant business implications, allowing companies to streamline their customer interactions and save costs by deploying service agents more smartly. 

A little more conversation

Conversational CX is also an increasingly valuable tool in any successful manufacturer's armory. Today's customers want experiences that move seamlessly across channels and spaces, and that enable them to start or stop the interaction at any time. And with 61% of people willing to walk away from a company after a single bad experience, delivering on these expectations has never been more important.

Again, many manufacturers are showing positive signs of progress. Among UK managers and leaders, 58% say their agents can now access conversations and respond across all support channels in one place, slightly ahead of the global average of 54%. Likewise, 76% of leaders are rethinking the entire customer journey to build a more fluid experience in which customer support can be provided whenever, wherever and however required. The job now is to accelerate that progress, embedding conversational CX tools across all their locations and touchpoints. 

Getting personal

As well as providing more seamless customer experiences, manufacturing companies are under no illusions about the need to deliver more personalized interactions too. This means ensuring agents are equipped with the very latest information about every customer preference, request and issue. Connecting service data in this way is known to have a powerful impact on trust and retention, with the added bonus of reducing customer acquisition costs at the same time. The 64% of UK manufacturing firms who say they plan to increase their CX personalization budget in 2023 should therefore expect to reap the rewards.

This commitment to personalization can also extend to creating a more formalized method of capturing customers' emotions and then using those insights to optimize future interactions. Again, this fact has not escaped the manufacturing industry, with 70% of leaders planning to increase their budget on tracking and improving customer emotions over the year ahead.

So long silos

The final area highlighted by the Zendesk report is the dismantling of organizational silos.

Historically, customer service teams have been split across geographies, functions, products and more, reducing the flow of data and knowledge across the business. Even now, only 30% of manufacturing leaders feel their organisation is excellent in sharing customer data between teams and departments – higher than the global average of 22% but still low. This often results in disjointed, even frustrating, experiences for customers.

Merging CX teams and responsibilities can therefore have a considerable effect, helping drive operational efficiencies while providing better, more connected interactions for customers. It's also something that 74% of leaders say their organization plans to do in the next 12 months. The key is to turn those positive words into transformative action.

Emerging stronger

Perhaps the most important finding from the CX Trends report is the confirmation that, for UK manufacturers, the path to growth remains open. By continuing to invest their time, energy and resources into enhancing the customer journey, they can do more than just navigate the current economic and geopolitical uncertainty, they can emerge from it even stronger.

Advances in technology and approach mean that, rather than the cost center of the past,  CX can now become a genuine revenue driver, helping companies build better, more loyal relationships with customers, streamline and scale their operations and even solve the ongoing labor shortage. From the supply chain to the shopfloor, you have to go back many years to find a tougher period in which to be a manufacturer. But in a sea of challenges, excellent CX can help them turn the tide.

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