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Prioritizing Customers’ Needs Helps Manufacturers Stay Ahead of the Competition

Prioritizing Customers’ Needs Helps Manufacturers Stay Ahead of the Competition

Customer needs are a great North Star for manufacturers. Prioritizing customer needs can make them more productive, more efficient and more agile.

It’s possible that someone working on the production floor of a manufacturer has never seen one of the company’s customers in person.

Those on the manufacturer’s marketing team might have videoconferencing calls throughout the day, but not necessarily with an actual customer.

Even those on the fulfillment and shipping side of a manufacturing operation may only get as far as a customer’s doorstep with a product, which is only answered after they drive back.

It might not be easy, therefore, to spot the manufacturers that prioritize customers’ needs over those who don’t.

The first big clue? The ones who do tend to be great at forecasting demand, and aren’t left with excess inventory or a shortage of what customers want.

When a manufacturer is customer-centric, it also tends to tailor its business processes with an eye to providing a great customer experience, rather than cut costs at their expense. They are easy to do business with, including when it comes to customer service or having products sent back.

Here’s the real test, though: which manufacturers can make a significant pivot in their operations when a customer needs change?

We’ve gotten some answers to this question over the past few years. When the COVID-19 outbreak began, for instance, there were a number of manufacturers who found themselves in a position where their regular business nearly ground to a halt. Unless they did something different, they would be sitting with idle factories and a slew of difficult financial decisions.

Fortunately, several manufacturers rose to these challenges by being squarely focused on customers’ needs in the moment. Instead of creating perfumes, manufacturers in the beauty sector began producing hand sanitizer. Some of the fashion industry’s leading apparel manufacturers switched to making much-need personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and face shields.

Though the pandemic unleashed considerable disruption – including to the traditional ways many employees worked – it also created opportunities for manufacturers to build upon their customer-centric efforts as lockdown restrictions began to lift.

Beyond leaning on technology to keep us connected and collaborative, for example, manufacturers can harness digital tools to meet many other kinds of customer needs. Just consider:

The Need To Purchase And Place Orders With Ease

Being a manufacturer’s customer used to mean working with a lot of paper, whether it was filling out a purchase order or filing away an invoice after it was paid. Meanwhile, in other sectors customers have grown accustomed to searching for products and buying it with a few clicks of a button.

Manufacturers can quickly and easily make the transition to e-commerce that streamlines the ordering and purchase process for customers. They can also create centralized sources of customer data to spare their sales team from digging through myriad systems to get what they need to serve larger customers.

The Need For Relevant, Personalized Information

When manufacturers refer to “customers,” they know each one is probably a little different in its product preferences, its budget and other factors. Yet there can be a tendency to treat them as one homogenous group, particularly in terms of marketing content that gets sent their way.

By using tools like marketing automation, manufacturers can slice and dice their list of customers based on all the criteria that make them unique. That way, they can move towards segmented campaigns, with e-mails that speak directly to what those customers want to hear about.

The Need To Be Heard

“Your call is important to us,” a robotic voice repeats over and over again when customers call into a contact centre. Yet those customers might not feel very important, especially if there is not a simple way to share details about whether or not a manufacturer is providing a great experience.

Instead of waiting for customers to come forward with complaints, manufacturers can send out proactive surveys that seek out actionable feedback from their customers. There are other tools that be used to track how engaged customers are with digital content, their sentiment and how experiences could be improved.

The Need To Be Understood

A data-driven approach to running a manufacturing firm means customers are never truly invisible, even if they aren’t physically present. Companies can use analytics to sift through purchase patterns, common customer service questions and other behavior to paint a clearer picture of why some customers stay loyal and why others turn to competitors.

This is made easier by ensuring those within manufacturing sales teams can quickly update customer data from wherever they are, using mobile devices and monitoring performance on a continuous basis.

The Need To Be Helped In Advance

Customers appreciate it when they send a request to a manufacturer and get a timely response. When that manufacturer reaches out before they even realize they’ll need assistance, the relationship becomes even deeper.

Artificial intelligence (AI) goes beyond a historical view of data and can help manufacturers to predict future business conditions, including the ability to anticipate customer demands and expectations.

Conclusion

Manufacturers are like those in many other sectors in that they are bracing for ongoing challenges. This could include economic uncertainty, the need to hire more people, and even the impacts of climate change.

It’s easy to feel a little bit lost amid all these issues. That’s why centering upon customer needs as a North Star provides a proven way to navigate your way into the future.

The companies that do this not only differentiate themselves from competitors – they become more productive, more efficient, and more agile no matter what happens next.

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