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Successfully Creating a Digital Customer Experience

This last year taught the manufacturing community several important lessons, including the need to provide up-to-date information on product availability.

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More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are still working to fully grasp the ramifications to the organization. With fewer in-person meetings to help close sales and answer questions, manufacturers need to employ the right strategy to deliver the correct information to prospective buyers. Nowhere is this more vital to organizational success than in building and maintaining an online presence.

Early in the pandemic, in March 2020, a National Association of Manufacturers survey showed that 35 percent of manufacturers were already experiencing supply chain disruptions that could impact product availability. More than three-quarters of those surveyed anticipated a financial impact on their business.  

This last year taught the manufacturing community several important lessons, leading to significant pivots in their decision-making. One is the need to provide up-to-date information on product availability for anyone who needs it, anytime and anywhere. The manufacturing community can no longer rely on the same kind of personal touch they may be used to. For many companies, the permanent on-premises workday for the whole staff may be a thing of the past.  

Another lesson learned is that today’s manufacturer needs to cast a wider net to maintain revenue – or increase it. For some this is nothing new, and we’ve seen companies branch out from their traditional B2B model and begin selling directly to customers (D2C). For these manufacturers it’s obvious that an eCommerce approach is the way to go. But many in the manufacturing sector still weigh heavier traditional, face-to-face networking and selling through vendors. 

The value of a more data-centric approach can help both business models by creating a complete “customer experience.” In other words, it’s using data you already have to present the information that will be the most beneficial to someone interested in your products, whether you’re shaking someone’s hand in a meeting or emailing them a URL to check out your product catalog. 

Creating a customer experience is about more than just building a product website or fully embracing eCommerce. It’s about integrating all the systems and data at your disposal to place what customers need at their fingertips throughout their entire experience. When every interaction with your company feels seamless, a sale is the natural conclusion – whether it’s finalized online, over the phone, or in person.  

But for many businesses this involves coordinating multiple catalogs, product lists, and databases to find that information in their systems and keep it updated. There are product names, descriptions, product images, SKUs, prices, inventory levels, and more that would require a tremendous amount of manual upkeep to maintain day-to-day. It also means coordinating with different teams within the company that manage that information, and whose systems may not be compatible for sharing information.  

Fortunately, today there are powerful solutions/platforms available that bring all that data together for a complete picture of your product catalog. When you optimize the use of those tools you not only make it easier to provide a customer (or potential customer) with the information they need to make an informed decision, you also unlock insights into who you’re selling to and how to broaden the appeal of your products.  

Here are a few things to look for in a solution to help you improve the customer experience. 

  • Open Source Flexibility: Embracing Open Source content management systems gives complete control over all information. It brings limitless customization options, saves on subscription costs and doesn’t limit you to a specific platform. 
  • Robust API Integration: Bringing together different systems managed by groups throughout your organization. From inventory to digital assets to point-of-sale systems, the need for powerful APIs that deliver insights to the right people, in the right place, at the right time is essential.
  • Scalability: With growth as the goal, can your network architecture be built to handle surges in traffic? Your content management system needs to scale to meet the demand during your busy season, and as your company grows, whether to different markets or to include a more comprehensive product portfolio. 

The ultimate goal is to create a digital product presence that offers complete information for customers and a consistently optimal experience, whether they are purchasing online or just seeking information. Then as you present the information to them, you are also gathering more information that helps you understand how they react to pricing, availability and other aspects of your product catalog. 

 That data, in turn, can be used to reach out to new audiences you may not have identified before, helping to grow your business. 

It’s an opportune time to re-examine your marketing approach. By embracing digital transformation, you can better maintain your product information and more fully highlight what you have to offer your own organization, customers and third-party vendors.

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