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Involve customers in the manufacturing process
Manufacturing companies by nature focus on engineering or production, but oftentimes they have forgotten their customers. A sound business case should be offering, or even co-developing, products and services that cater to customer needs. Such an outside-in perspective opens doors to new customers and business possibilities and helps align internal departments to serve customers better. The trick is to encourage staff, especially engineers and production staff, to engage with customers constantly.
The key actor: the customer
Manufacturing companies, built on a strong engineering heritage, often overlook a key actor: the customer. Enabling staff to have more contact with customers generates insights, which can be developed into services that enhance your commercial offers and build stronger customer relationships.
Too focused on production
In production-focused companies, even departments that work with customers tend to get caught up in the organisational culture and struggle to bring the customer perspective into the company’s operations. These companies likely focus mainly on setting up facilities and managing production and supply chain.
Misalignment between departments, from sales and marketing to production and engineering, impacts the products and services provided. Input from customers, even when it is deemed useful, takes time to be incorporated. If companies do not understand customer needs, they are likely to incur significant costs related to preventable incidents.
Adopt an outside-in perspective
When you adopt a customer’s outside-in perspective, it is easier to differentiate service issues from product and production issues. When a shipment of components is delayed, it is not only a production issue. From a customer perspective, it is mainly about a timely notice that minimises impact on the customer’s own operation. Customers in general appreciate an honest discussion about your capabilities and their needs.
“If only you were able to…”
Customer complaints of course help manufacturers identify areas to be improved. However, conversations with your customers, as well as their own customers, often generate very useful insights and ideas of new business opportunities.
When customers tell you “if only you were able to…”, you are opening your world to new business possibilities. They may tell you they prefer having certain product specifications or information delivered earlier, for instance. Although your customers may not know whether what they want is something you can do, such conversations are extremely valuable and productive. Customers are usually willing to share their perspective, or even co-develop products and solutions with you.
A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%
Innovations empower customers
Unlike product innovations, service innovations don’t always require massive investment or even operational changes. Innovative services that strengthen customer relationship could be access to in-house experts and product configurators, real-time online customer support and role-based training. These services are also easy to scale up and enable more customers to improve their businesses.
A sound business case
When engineers and production staff interact with their customers, the new insights are helpful in challenging the long-held assumptions and conventions that have kept manufacturers from focusing more on customers. The resulting innovative services likely offer great value to customers. Therefore, engaging with customers in order to understand their business and experience is more than a good practice. It is a sound business case.