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Posted on October 21, 2021

Customer Experience (CX): Seamless Manufacturer - Distributor Interaction

John Joyce
Written by

John Joyce

Posted in
Distributed Manufacturing

As We Covered in Part 1 of this Series: What we now refer to as customer experience (CX) enables the collective result of every interaction a business has with its customers to be seamless, such as the interactions between and manufacturer (OEM) and distributor.  Because in most cases the manufacturer’s customer is the distributor, data sharing is imperative to their mutual success.  Leveraging a CX platform allows for the development and implementation of points of contact, or “touchpoints”.   A CX platform monitors those touchpoints for their individual performance in order to constantly improve them, measuring the weight of importance of each, creating, and continuously adjusting the relevant hierarchy of communications.

CX or sometimes referred to as DCX in the digital world, is not just about sales and marketing. According to Forrester analysts, most digital experience platforms concentrate their resources on marketing, sales, and the interconnectivity in their commerce.  All the while neglecting customer service, retention and continual customer facing engagement.  It’s important to remember that good customer CX (not just the software, but the theory) is not just marketing and selling, it needs to be more holistic in creating experiences that apply to the entire customer lifecycle.  It must include customer service that quickly responds to a customer’s questions in a personalized manner.  It can include AI chatbots but should also be supported by a live help desk.

How CX Works in Practical Examples

Let’s take the example of a company that manufactures and distributes hydraulic fittings and components.  In this and with any company, data can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  However, from a marketing standpoint between a manufacturer and distributor, data is information about products.  A company wants to disseminate as much information as is reasonably possible about their products and services to their customers and prospects.  It could be anything from what it looks like, to its size, to what material it is made of, to how much it weighs, does it violate any restrictions, does it have certain import controls, or is it made of any material that might be considered dangerous in specific applications.  There’s a whole variety of product data the customer might need, plus there’s also up-to-the-second data.  This can include how much of the product is on hand, where the product is in the company’s global network of distribution or manufacturing centers, and how much does it cost in the customer’s specific circumstance.  Not just a general list price, but their price based on volume, contract or other CX scenarios. 

People want the most granular and specific information they can get about the products they need.  It also may include things such as CAD files, or high-end engineering documents that help the customer design the product into their assembly, or how it will best fit their application. In this example, hydraulic fittings and components go into the customer’s products.  So, the company needs to provide as much information as possible to support design engineers and filed service personnel. 

Where does a company draw the line between not giving enough information and giving too much?  Should there be a fear of competitors getting their information?

It’s true, in general companies are afraid of competitors having too much information about their products.  But once the cat’s out of the bag, it can’t be controlled.  A company may give information to someone who is more or less trusted, but they don’t always know how its going to be used and the user could purposefully or accidentally overshare it.  But the reality is, those kinds of fears are unfounded unless what’s shared is some type of trade secret.  In the majority of cases, a company should want their information out in the marketplace to make it easy for the customer to make the decision to buy.  There is typically more harm when preventing that information from being released in the sense of lost business.  It puts the company in the dark, making it impossible to quantify the loss in sales and brand when they are hard to do business with.  It’s also hard to quantify the value of sharing information with distribution and end user networks when it comes to helping them in projects like building a hydraulic system, or any situation where the product is to be used in the end user’s manufactured goods.  Without sharing the information, the customer will likely go elsewhere.  After all, a person doesn’t buy a pair of shoes without trying them on.

Take Amazon as an example.  They have been making a concerted effort to push into the industrial space over the last several years, and the reality is they are a distribution channel that should be leveraged.  So, if a company wants to play, they need to be actively pumping their data into Amazon’s system in order to remain competitive.  Companies can’t survive in major markets if there’s fear of sharing too much product information.  The company has to make sure their products and their  business have actual unique advantages in the marketplace, and they have to tell people what those advantages are.  Plus, they need to bring something different to the market than just data, otherwise they reduce their product to a commodity. 

There are many CX data sharing software platforms available that are off the shelf, yet specifically developed to integrate differing ERP systems.  Using these software platforms on the front end,  companies will often develop a web-enabled system that is custom built to provide an API endpoint.  It’s a point on the internet where two ERP systems are essentially connected together.  For instance, a gateway system is built in the background at the manufacturer’s end that is customized to a partner distributor’s ERP system, which has the ability to go get information in real-time over the internet.  SAP for example has modules that tap into feeds of information, allowing a custom system to have a comparable endpoint for them to tap into.

Yet, more often than not individual distributor customers have different ERP systems.  One may be using SAP, another Oracle or Sage or Epicor, or any of a dozen other systems or even a home grown platform.  Each of those requires the manufacturer to build a customized adapter layer so that it works in concert with their system and allows them to provide only the data the customer is looking for and exactly how they want to get it.  That is basically how data sharing happens.  Though it’s done over the internet, it’s still tightly controlled, and it’s not open to just anybody, only to those who the company chooses to collaborate with.

Great customer CX goes both ways.  Not only does a company share the information the customer needs, but they glean a tremendous amount of information about the customer.  Such as:

  • Their product preferences, which enables the company to cross sell and upsell.
  • Their volume of purchases, which helps the company do more accurate forecasting.
  • Seasonal activity.
  • End user insights.
  • Even the needs and preferences of individual decision makers and influencers.

The system also keeps track of the customer’s history as related to previous interactions, which helps to better support their needs in the future.

“It takes years to win a customer and only seconds to lose one.”

—Catherine DeVrye

#1 best-selling author on customer service, change, teamwork & resilience

 

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