Over the last few years, there has been increasing buzz around the digitization of supplier-customer relationships in the process manufacturing and chemical distribution industries. We wouldn't say that this trend comes as a total surprise to anyone – when you think about your personal life as a consumer, how do you prefer to interact with brands?
We'd venture to guess your preference is to communicate online whether it be paying your bills, research a product, buying it, and then checking on that order status and delivery until it arrives at your doorstep. Why should your interactions with your customers be any different?
In this blog post, we'll provide an overview of the current consumer experience in the B2C landscape vs. the typical customer experience in the chemical industry. We will discuss customer service challenges and how an integrated Customer Portal can transform those challenges into opportunities.
The "Amazon Effect"
For the longest time, there was always a clear distinction between business and consumer buyers. With Amazon and other consumer-focused businesses delivering exceptional customer experiences and becoming an integral part of our personal lives, your customers are now increasingly expecting B2C-like experiences when they interact with you.
We like to call this phenomenon the "Amazon Effect" – because of how easy Amazon has made making and monitoring online purchases, Amazon has disrupted your relationship and continues to transform your customers' expectations of you.
In a recent study by Accenture, 70% of buyers in the chemical industry said that they would purchase more online if it were easier to do so. While the chemical industry has long had digital ordering in the form of EDI, it's nowhere close to Amazon's 1-click order.
The Customer Experience in the Process and Chemical Industries – A Status Check
Over the years, the chemical industry has mastered the art of competing on price and product and remaining competitive while offering a few customer service innovations such as 1-2-day delivery. However, today, price and product are table stakes – price and product are why your customers seek you out, customer experience is why they keep coming back. Increasingly, customer experience is going to assume an even more significant role of the three.
Let’s take a quick snapshot of the typical customer experience in the industry:
But what if they want to see if the order went through? Or check on their order status? Or ask for SDS and COA? Or ask for invoices from the previous month? What if order information and quantities were entered incorrectly or misheard? What if their decision to buy occurs outside business hours? They would need to wait to reach out to your sales or Customer Support representative (“CSR”) and possibly play phone tag again.
Looking at this typical service workflow, we saw two main problems that many companies may be experiencing:
Your customer service reps (“CSRs”) are probably spending too much time responding to order status/information inquiries. It's great that you are making your CSRs available to answer questions, but does your customer value reaching out to the CSR all those times? Or would they self-serve 7 out of 10 times if given the opportunity to do so seamlessly?
The second problem we see is that in a day with 8-10 business hours, sales reps spend around 3-4+ hours on average inputting orders instead of consulting with customers. Wouldn't you prefer a sales rep to spend more time on revenue-generating activities than administrative tasks like order entry? Are you missing out on potential business when you force your customer to place an order when you can accept it and not when they want to submit it?
These problems can cause a customer satisfaction nightmare! When we conducted research with a handful of our customers, one statistic stood out to us: 4 out 5 companies think that they deliver a superior customer experience, but only a fraction of their customers feel that they're receiving an excellent experience.
The channels that helped us get here today, such as in-person, phone, and email interactions alone cannot sustain our success tomorrow. If 80% of buyers will expect digital, real-time interactions with your brand by 2020, how do we adapt and innovate, so you do not lose out to competitors who do?
The answer is by transforming your customers’ experience with a Customer Portal.
Why Your Business Needs a Customer Portal – A Tale of a New Generation
Offering a digital platform to interact with your customers is not just a fashionable trend, but a real business need – it is estimated that by 2021, B2B online sales will be at $1.2tn.
Now some of you are probably thinking that I've been dealing with these same customers for years and years and they don't want to be online - and that's a fair point! But the most significant shift in the chemical industry that's rarely ever talked about is succession: the passing of the baton to the younger generation.
Increasingly the purchasing managers at your customers are going to be in the 18-35 demographic who were brought up in the digital age. This generation expects and wants digital interactions more than the status quo.
Source: Google/Millward Brown Digital, B2B Path to Purchase Study, 2014
And why do they go online? They like to know that they're getting the best price, the fastest delivery, and it's more straightforward for them to use. They also find going online to be a far more credible and transparent way to consume product information and data.
Source: Forrester Research, Inc.
This generation also has higher expectations and are more likely to switch if their expectations are not met – with around 49% likely to switch to a competitor because it was too hard to buy your products online.
Source: Sullivan & Company
Benefits of a Customer Portal – Enhancing the Customer Experience
Investing in a tool that benefits both you and your customers is a win-win. From 24/7 data accessibility to a personalized customer experience, a customer portal will strengthen your customer relationships and position your company as a leader in the industry.