By Paul Tibbert, CEO of GRID
It wasn’t that long ago that the manufacturing process was considered a closed timeline, with a defined beginning and end: You’d make the product, sell the product, and ship the product. Process over.
But that wasn’t necessarily the end of the story. When products start to re-emerge as warranty claims or service calls, a new process would start.
What existed in between was a “blackout” of information that left the manufacturer and/or service technician at a loss as to what happened to a particular “widget” or machine between the time it left the shipping docks and the moment it was brought in for service or a warranty claim was filed.
That’s changing, as innovative manufacturers and distributors are discovering a process for—and the value of—extending the relationship between the provider and the customer for the full life cycle of the product…and even beyond!
The result? Lower costs, better innovation, increased customer satisfaction and retention, and a competitive advantage over competitors that are still doing things the old way.
To take advantage of this new approach, manufacturers are wise to embrace a shift in mindset—one that reimagines the relationship between manufacturer and end user as a lifelong commitment that is mutually beneficial over the full life cycle of the product that the two have in common. The idea is to stay engaged and connected with the customer for the long term, so that the manufacturer continues to provide value throughout the life of the machine, widget or product…and, in the process, gets smarter about how to serve the customer while earning customer loyalty and brand reputation at each successive touch point.
More on that in a bit.
This will also require a re-imagining of the fulfillment and service process, as well as a modest investment in new technologies that make this all possible.
Let’s first look at an example. John Deere is a manufacturer in the business of providing high-ticket machinery to agricultural customers. The old paradigm would be to build the tractor, sell the tractor, ship the tractor, then see that the tractor gets serviced, eventually.
Ever the innovator and category leader, what John Deere has transitioned to is to becoming much more than a manufacturer, but a service provider as well. Instead of simply selling machines, they now partner with the product end user to provide a complete system of agriculture processes, far beyond what their product actually does in its discrete application or use. They offer a robust and far-reaching system for agricultural success, complete with diagnostic kits and guidance on optimal seeding, feeding and watering processes, land and soil management best practices, as well as tips on how to maximize the lifespan of the machinery they sell.
It’s a true partnership between manufacturer and user—one that becomes extremely difficult for competitors to drive a wedge between.
That’s how manufacturers should be rethinking their processes: How can we create an ongoing relationship with the customer, so that we can not only provide better products, but establish unbreakable connections between our brand and our customers’ loyalty?
You’ve seen the prompts yourself. “Allow Apple to store and share diagnostics?” “Register your product today!” “Sign up for important updates and success tips!”
No, these aren’t just Big Brother trying to track your every movement. These are actually strategic processes designed to get to know you better so the brands can serve you better.
How manufacturers are replicating these best practices is by integrating technology and processes that allow products to “talk back” to the manufacturer after they leave the shipping docks. Just about anything can be a “smart” product today, and take an active voice in the Internet of Things, constantly returning valuable data, diagnostics and information that can be stored and easily accessed—not just by the manufacturer itself, but by downstream providers as well, such as service centers, technicians, parts suppliers, and the financial partners servicing our warranties.
It’s real-time intelligence…all the time…accessible anytime…and for all time (with no blackouts of information).
Not only does such technology fill in the many gaps in that “blackout of knowledge” between the time a product leaves and the time it “returns” (for service or warranty), it can serve as a liaison between manufacture and customer, continually chronicling the product’s whereabouts, its event history, its service history, its performance, its incident logs, its transfer of ownership, and so on.
What you see is previously invisible data and information. What the customer sees is more informed service technicians, better product performance, better product design and iteration, and a true partner willing to commit to a lifelong service relationship that is less episodic and more seamless…just as the one John Deere customers are now enjoying.
Imagine a future wherein you can track the full life cycle of your product, from proverbial cradle to grave. What returns might that investment in innovation generate?
a nearly unbreakable bond between the manufacturer and the user/customer;
greater intelligence on product performance and customer use, which can lead to discoveries that can be baked into future product design, thereby giving you an unfair advantage over your competitors;
the ability to address recurring incidents showing up in service calls and warranty claims preemptively and proactively, thereby allowing you to design around and fix common issues, which leads to…
lower warranty costs, directly impacting the bottom line and likely more than offsetting the investments in time, technology and treasure to implement the new lifetime service model;
an open communication channel, enabling you to provide service reminders and product maintenance tips that will extend the life of the product, thereby positioning your machine or widget as best-in-class, which will naturally improve the brand’s reputation and lead to more future sales, both by existing customers and those they recommend as satisfied brand ambassadors;
further insulation against “outsourced” competitors undercutting you on price. By the time the client comes to expect lifecycle concierge service, price will no longer factor into their loyalty…they’ll settle for nothing less!
That’s the future that a few manufacturers are starting to realize today: one in which the product itself communicates back to the manufacturer, the manufacturer communicates more consistently with the customer, and the user more openly communicates with both the manufacturer and its supply chain partners. That’s a win-win-win.
It’s actually not an entirely hefty lift to evolve from the old way of doing manufacturing and the new model of extending the customer relationship in perpetuity. What’s required is a fairly intuitive mindset shift, a willingness to re-imagine existing processes, a genuine desire to improve outcomes and optimize customer relationships, and an integration of software that sophisticated manufacturers are already deploying to obvious and recurring benefit.Once the new model is implemented, the software does most of the heavy lifting for you.
What you do with the intelligence that comes back from your products in the field is what will separate you from competitors…and ensure that competitors cannot separate you from your loyal customers.