Amid the accelerated shift to digital, manufacturers find themselves turning to direct-to-consumer (DTC) and e-commerce models to drive business. D2C ecommerce sales have more than tripled in recent years, jumping from $36 billion in 2016 to $128 billion in 2021 and are expected to reach $212.90 billion by the end of 2024, according to an eMarketer report published in March 2022.
Cutting out distributors and retailers not only improves margins but gives manufacturers complete control over the customer experience. But with that comes an entirely new set of challenges.
“Not only are manufacturers having to take on new roles—from consumer marketing and sales to customer support and data management—but they’re having to do so at a time when consumer expectations are driving a new age of Customer Experience (CX).”
Here’s how technology is enabling them to do so.
Reaching customers where they are
Led by electric start-ups like Tesla, the automotive industry is beginning a gradual but significant move toward DTC ecommerce sales. The shift includes traditional powers like Ford, which is allowing some of its most popular models to be built and pre-ordered online.
This change requires manufacturers to embrace new technology for reaching and engaging consumers during the critical consideration phase. Chat apps, text messages, email, video and online calling will play a critical role in this effort.
“In addition to traditional digital marketing channels like websites, today’s most successful brands are engaging their customers and prospects with chatbots or even WhatsApp campaigns.”
A potential car buyer who used the online vehicle customization tool on a company website, for example, can receive an automated WhatsApp message with a special deal incentivizing them to complete the purchase.
This technology can tailor communications to the individual based off information they provide, purchase history, previous interactions with the brand and even publicly available profile data. The ability to customize this outreach forges deeper connections with customers and increases conversion rates.
Providing a consistent omnichannel experience
Accustomed to the superior digital experience delivered by the likes of Amazon and Walmart, today’s consumers—including B2B consumers—expect to easily and quickly find product details and answer questions on whatever channel they prefer. This requires manufacturers moving into the DTC space to manage sales and product information across an array of owned properties and third–party marketplaces.
What’s more, consumers expect to move back and forth between these channels: a shopper may conduct research on a brand’s mobile application, view purchase options on Amazon’s website and ultimately head to the company website to buy.
During the pandemic shutdowns, one forward-thinking retailer even launched a virtual shopping experience that allowed consumers to interact with a sales representative in real time via video stream. This strategy represents a future in which the traditional and digital shopping experiences will continue to both blend and fracture.
Providing a consistent experience across these various touchpoints is key to driving sales. But doing so requires the right technology. The right Product Information Management (PIM) system enables brands to easily distribute products across channels without the need to manually update disparate marketplace offerings.
Continuing engagement past the point of sale
The customer experience doesn’t end once the sale is made. Today’s manufacturer now has to provide ongoing product and service support.
Customers now have more power and autonomy in decision making. They have different modes of communication available to them and they can choose the way they want to interact with the product. They may choose to call in to a manned support center or engage with an automated chatbot online.
“In either scenario, automation is key. Automated call deflection tools are critical to easing the strain on human agents.”
Long call waits or incomplete answers to their questions will frustrate customers who have grown accustomed to the superior support of most major e-commerce platforms. And for those customers who prefer not to pick up the phone, automated support technologies like chatbots are critical to providing a helpful, efficient experience.
Connected devices and the rise of subscription services are also changing the long-term relationship between manufacturer and user. That includes drivers, who increasingly rely on data connectivity and subscriptions for in-car features. The automotive subscription services market is set to grow by $9.15 billion by 2024, according to a report by Technavio.
Securing data and positioning for further innovation
The collection and management of customer data is critical to building a unified product experience across all touchpoints. Insights gleaned from this data play a vital role in a company’s ability to personalize every aspect of the customer journey, from marketing to support to product design.
But companies must be careful about how they use and protect this data in a period of rapidly changing data privacy regulation. Manufacturers need the security, technologies and protocols in place to maintain consumer trust and avoid running afoul of regulations.
Securing and utilizing this data will only become more important as the digital shift continues to accelerate and technology develops. Positioning themselves to meet the expectations of customers in a rapidly evolving digital world requires manufacturers to make a fundamental shift in how they conduct their business. It also means building and mastering a complicated system of new technologies and capabilities, from tech support software to data security to customer relationship management tools and beyond.
Manufacturers who succeed in this new environment will be the ones who not only master these new functions but invest in the requisite technology infrastructure to support them.
To learn more about how to elevate customer experience in manufacturing, click here.