Manufacturers of yesteryear often cited affordable pricing and quick time-to-market as reasons vendors stayed loyal to one operation. Over the decades, however, competition in the industry stiffened, and these once-beneficial perks morphed into customer expectation. Now, businesses in the manufacturing industry seek up-and-coming ways to keep clients satisfied.
At this point, it’s no secret that the advent of the Internet led manufacturers to revisit their approach to customer service. Today, clients need not visit the factory to experience the operation. Instead, the factory comes to the client with a mere click of the mouse key.
Web-based customer relations techniques continue to become more elaborate with each passing day.
Some production operations now even let the client see everything taking place on the shop room floor. Network cameras and IP (Internet protocol) video systems are Web-based tools for showing off a product run as it occurs. Aside from granting customers remote access to the factory operation, some manufacturers have incorporated these systems in their sales departments.
Clients can talk face to face with a representative about any problems or concerns. Such a solution opens the lines of communication, allowing customers to view exactly where the manufacturing process stands – no matter their location in the world. In turn, this reduces the risk of error in getting products to the shelves faster and cheaper. A number of networking solution companies sell this service.
Certain industrial equipment manufacturers – particularly in the energy industry – offer customer witness displays on their websites. This feature lets clients participate in a real-time test of machinery without actually visiting the factory site. During the procedure, a window on the website shows an animated graphic of the product at work, providing real-time updates and statistics on the performance. Clients can compare the simulation data to the functionality of their purchased product(s).
Other manufacturers utilize their websites to provide clients with packaging information, online user guides, replacement part catalogs and e-tools to aid the customer in purchase decisions. Almost all manufacturers dedicate a portion of their website for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for immediate answers to common questions. Many websites also allow customers to register to become a preferred customer to receive special promotions, updates and notifications of new products.
Despite technological solutions designed to enhance the quality of customer service, many businesses in the industry choose to stick to traditional methods. Manufacturers’ agents, also known as manufacturers’ representatives, still serve as the main customer relations tool at a number of operations. In a nut shell, these professionally-trained public relations specialists provide the client with immediate assistance on questions and concerns through every step of the sales process and beyond.
In fact, modern laptops and high-speed Internet connections make the agent’s job more efficient today, allowing them to answer technical and non-technical questions faster – from almost anywhere.
Representatives also advise clients on methods to reduce costs of product development while increasing sales on that particular item.
In addition, manufacturers rely on their agents to generate and oversee distributor orders, as well as resolve any problems or complaints about merchandise.
Clearly, the job involves quite a bit of demand. Manufacturers’ agents spend much of their time traveling to meet with prospective and current distributors to discuss how certain products can benefit their business. In many cases, the agent visits clients one- on-one to show samples or catalogs, as well as prices and availability.
Aside from stirring up leads, these representatives often help clients install new equipment produced by the manufacturer. Frequently, agents must train a client’s employees how to use a specific product.
Manufacturers who produce consumer goods often send agents to help clients set up merchandise displays and advertise.
Tools of the Trade
No matter the business, irked clients commonly find themselves running in circles when searching for help from management. Recognizing this as a problem, some manufacturers have set up online issue resolution services to make agents more accessible.
Usually accessed via the company’s website, this measure lets clients with product woes use their computer to get assistance. Some features popular with online issue resolution include: single-point contact for all issues (no bouncing around from one representative to the next); digital tracking from the moment the complaint is issued to the point it is resolved; and a time guarantee, ensuring the agent will handle the situation within a reasonable period. In most cases, the user must possess a login ID number to access this feature. Nonetheless, some setups even allow the user to create and track warranty claims over the Internet.
Keeping Customers in the Loop
The timeliness of an order’s completion acts as the most important element in molding good manufacturer/client relations. For this reason, certain operations provide clients with mapping before work on a product even starts. Basically, the manufacturer gives the customer a detailed chart, explaining nearly every step of the product run – outlining vitals about time and materials.
Some manufacturers go the extra mile and hold weekly production meetings to examine how the order is progressing. After the meeting, manufacturers fax or email the current order status to the client.