Cross-pollination of CX Delivery Skills Across Manufacturing and Services Organizations to Raise the Overall ‘Experience’ Bar for Consumers

Customer Experience creation in the manufacturing age was about product features (including aesthetics), reliability of performance, ease of availability, training of users, and good after-sales support (for query handling and ticket management). Characteristic of these organizations for building Customer Experience around the product was to have a strong R&D setup. They worked hard at understanding customer preferences and evolving needs to build that into products and features. Enhanced manufacturing/inventory management capabilities ensured volumes to ‘reduce cost’ (an essential requirement of CX) and increase choices to consumers (different features, colors, etc). Adopting quality management tools helped reduce variability in product quality, delivering increasingly reliable product performance. Evolving logistics/distribution management gave better and quicker access for products to consumers. ‘Just in time’ manufacturing practices brought down inventory costs. Focus on better packaging not only improved visual appeal but also built safeguards for preventing transit damages.

With the advent of digitalization – experience enhancement opportunities for products were created at all stages of the customer journey. The ability to build in personalization, e.g. choice of the colour of your car, upholstery, image embossing at the manufacturing stage, ordering online, inventory visibility, etc, all became possible.

However, since people bought products for addressing a particular personal/business/social need – initially it meant that the customer, after buying the product, had to arrange other components needed to deliver the end objective he was seeking. (e.g. he bought a cake for a birthday party, so he needed to arrange the decoration items, snacks, crockery, decoration items, etc., and then integrate it to make the party happen). If someone bundled all the components to deliver the end-use need of the customer – it presented an opportunity for new market creation and also an ability to charge a premium for the convenience delivered. Thus, the age of ‘service products’ dawned. Pure product companies also evolved to add ‘Service Product’ in their offering, e.g. McDonald’s (with event party offering), Automobile (Car Rental services), Restaurants (party caterings), Beauty products (with beautician home services), etc.

This, however, opened up the complexity of ensuring that all components of the ‘service product’ had to perform properly to deliver a ‘reliable’ service. Since the production and consumption of ‘service product’ happens simultaneously, defect-free delivery is the only target – unlike a manufacturing process where quality defects can be detected and corrected before the product reaches and gets consumed by a customer.

This demands a far higher application of quality tools in ‘service product’ companies more than in pure manufacturing companies. However, very rarely is it found to be used with the same rigour and discipline in the service product companies. Quality tools and data analytic skills are low in ‘service product’ companies and often they have no dedicated quality department internally to apply the same to improve processes or manage their variability.

Similarly, while manufacturing companies have an R&D department, there is no structured collection of customer needs, and expectation gaps in ‘Service Product’ companies. Market research when done there is usually directed towards uncovering competitive/market reach gaps or measuring customer satisfaction levels. Use of CX tools like customer segmentation, customer journey mapping, ServQual, etc.; models to uncover mismatches between customer expectations and company offerings is neither practiced nor much understood. Application of these tools as an R&D setup in ‘Service Product’ companies will yield rich insights for guiding the evolution of offerings, like R&D does for manufacturing. Having a ‘Customer R&D’ specialized cell in all ‘Service Product’ companies manned by CX professionals trained in the tools and techniques of uncovering constantly evolving need – expectation gaps of different customer segments will deliver the same ‘value enhancement’ capability for an organization as an R&D cell did for manufacturing companies.

What manufacturing companies can learn from ‘service product’ companies is in the domain of delivering a far more professional ‘after-sales’ experience. Picking ‘responsiveness’ lessons/systems from them, as service product companies are more directly engaged with end consumers. Experience has shown a lot of iconic manufacturing companies have extremely weak ‘after-sales’ support experience, with low investments in policies/process/systems to quickly record and address complaints around product deficiencies, delivery, installation/trainings, etc. Often the root of underinvestment in this area is the misplaced belief in manufacturing companies that ‘after-sales’ is a ‘cost center’ and so their spends are low. Good ‘service product’ companies, however, view ‘after-sales’ as an ‘experience creation’ customer touchpoint opportunity and make investments in that area for reinforcing their brand perception. Stronger and better ‘after-sales’ systems by manufacturing companies following the best practices of service product companies will not only enhance their brand perception but would also provide performance gap data that can be recycled back for process corrections.

Centralized ticket registration through different channels, robust query management system (now with AI capabilities), enhanced robotic process automation are all areas that have not been fully leveraged by traditional manufacturing companies.

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