Winning customer experiences across the machine lifecycle

How tactical investment in custom software can help manufacturers build better digital products and improve the customer experience

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Improving the purchasing journey

For the customer, the journey with you and your product begins with the purchasing experience. It sets the tone for the relationship. This is why customer acquisition is such a key differentiator and worthy of serious consideration. 

Complicated purchasing flows result in high abandonment rates. The best purchasing experiences employ an omnichannel strategy that meets the customer where they are, whether that’s in person, on the phone, on a website, via an app, or in print. By strategically investing in an end-to-end digital experience, you can seamlessly guide potential customers through the purchasing process and remove every barrier to completing that journey.

Who are your potential customers? A third of the workforce is now classified as a millennial.  This new generation of decision-makers wants every technological advantage at their fingertips. Take farming for instance. For only the second time in the last 100 years, the population of farmers under the age of 35 has increased. Many are first-time farmers who, as a whole, are more likely to prioritize technology-driven solutions over traditional brand loyalty. The manufacturing, construction, and service sectors are also seeing a new generation of purchasers who use technology-forward approaches in their businesses and expect their vendors to do the same.

The need to adapt quickly has already hit financial institutions and retailers. A 2015 Financial Times story highlighted that 25 percent of the population would be using mobile accounts by 2019.

Manufacturing has the opportunity to build on these lessons, especially as they apply to business-to-business relationships and echo throughout the supply chain.

Getting to know the product

One example of a seamless purchasing experience can be found with Tesla. They are a manufacturer, showroom, dealer, and marketer all rolled into one. They recently extended their car buying experience to semi-trucks, promising exceptional savings in operational costs as well as modern technology and a comfortable cab. 

Compare this to the purchasing experience of one of the leading players in the semi-manufacturing space: Freightliner.

Tesla uses a streamlined purchasing flow, promising that each semi they deliver will come with the same world-class ownership experience their car customers enjoy. The Freightliner purchasing experience gives potential customers a wide array of options they can use to extensively customize their semi. A 360° tour of the truck’s cab lets them see changes as they are made.

Both digital presentations focus on the customer’s acquisition experience. They build excitement and investment in the purchasing process. Tesla buyers are offered not just a semi, but the allure of being an early adopter of a top-of-the-line electric vehicle that promises a lifetime of cost savings. With Freightliner, the potential customer sees a visual representation the semi they created using the dynamic customization interface. And it’s no coincidence that both use scenic, summer landscapes that appeal to a sense of independence and the call of the open road.

Experts warn traditional banks that are busy maintaining their old technology systems are at risk of losing customers and revenue to nimble digitla firms if they fail to offer efficient mobiel banking. David Hodgkinson of KPMG said, "Banks must adapt or die."

- Financial Times

The importance of pricing workflows

In 2018, a Foresee survey found that 49 percent of consumers who started a purchasing journey on a mobile device completed that purchase on a mobile device. Another 41 percent of consumers used multiple channels during their buying process. Successfully transitioning a potential customer from research, to quote, to purchase, regardless of the channel they use, is the core of a great acquisition experience. 

To better understand how this applies to manufacturers, let’s see how three well-known farm –equipment manufacturers—John Deere, Case, and AgCo—have kept up with a customer base that is becoming more digitally savvy. 

To generate early buy-in and investment, customization interfaces are often a vital part of any digital purchasing experience. For farmers, considerations about tractor width, fuel type, two- or four-wheel drive, transmission type, use-case, and maintenance constraints all play into the decision. Additionally, buyers are looking for comfort in the cab as well as an application ecosystem that supports the overall purchase.

While each machine in a product line is different, there are common elements to consider when building a customization interface. These include:

  • Ease of use

  • The ability to find necessary detail

  • User assistance, both active and passive

  • The consistency of the user experience across digital platforms

Also, research shows that buyers prefer to self-help when they encounter an issue during the purchasing process rather than have to escalate to the company they are buying from. Any inconsistency or bump in the process is an opportunity for stalling the customer and generating abandonment.

All of these customization tools were built to accomplish the same task: provide information about the product while moving the customer through the purchasing funnel. The impressions made on a buyer as they use these tools affect their perspective of what the ownership experience will be like. 

While an extensive breakdown of each tool’s usability is beyond the scope of this white paper, we will consider a few elements of each and how they impact the buying process.

John Deere

Let’s start with John Deere’s customization engine. It provides option packages but leaves open the possibility of selecting conflicting options. This may be tolerable for experienced John Deere purchasers, but it could cause newer customers to give up. The multi-step process also shows the options without context, which could be another stumbling block for first-time buyers. 

If the customization does result in option conflicts, there is no clear path to a resolution. At this point all the customer can do is review the entire customization or escalate the issue to John Deere for help. If the customer hasn’t abandoned the purchasing process at this point, they are handed off to a dealer for a conversation about the quote provided.

Case

The Case customization engine offers fewer immediate details and has higher information density. It reduces complexity by featuring fewer overall options and deselecting conflicting options based on prior choices. The final step in the process provides several options of equal visual weight but lacks a clear choice for action. 

More often than not, the experience of browsing the Case website drives users to an in-person conversation as fluidly as possible. In the absence of a dynamic digital presence, this gives Case the opportunity to re-engage the customer. However, it is entirely dependent on whether or not the customer is willing to take the additional step of completing the form and requesting assistance. 

AgCo

Valtra, which is a brand of AgCo, has designed its digital experience to immerse the potential customer in 3-D tours of the operator’s cab. The customization tool is focused on delight and information. Both the cab color and armrest control unit can be swapped out. The informational display updates with these changes. On-hover information bubbles are available for additional context. Other features include videos, charts, and an efficiency calculator.

The wealth of information and feature breakdowns culminates in the completion of a contact form. The goal of this page is to excite and inform, empower the customer with information, and drive them to a conversation.

The big take away from all of these experiences is that when customers approach a new domain, and they run into difficulty, they want to self-serve. This is more efficient for the business as well as the customer. Consider this Forrester study that cites the significant cost-savings of empowering customers in this way. For the cost of a single call, self-sufficient web services return 120 times the value.

Dependence on brick-and-mortar experiences as a part of a purchasing workflow also impacts a business’ ability to change and adapt. Take banking for instance. Since 2015, omnichannel banking has become the expected way of doing business. Online-only banks like Simple saw lines around their digital blocks awaiting accounts. 

The manufacturing industry can learn from this trend by being proactive and adapting to customers’ needs. Updating a single dealer with new information and design can be a significantly higher investment than perfecting the digital experience.

By implementing these considerations into your purchase workflow, you are setting the stage for stronger customer relationships. But this is just the first step. Every future need, upgrade, or repair is going to be an opportunity to reinforce customer loyalty. Only a customer-focused approach can retain and grow these business relationships.

Continue to:The ownership experience and beyond