Manufacturers are scrambling to address friction in their customer experience. Take these steps today to make incremental improvements.
Are customers saying you’re hard to do business with?
You’re not alone. As the world shifts to digital interaction, manufacturers are scrambling to address friction in their interaction with customers. For many organizations, the path forward is a self-service B2B portal.
But what can you do if you’re not ready to go down that road?
Are there any steps you can take now to make life easier for customers and customer service reps?
Here are a few tactics to start removing friction in your customer experience today. We’ve broken them up into the four most common scenarios so you can get tips that are tailored to your situation.
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NEW B2B PORTAL PROJECT ON THE TABLE
1. Ask your dealers and distributors what they want most in a portal
Any time you have stakeholders from multiple departments involved in a project, you’ll get a lot of competing views on what matters most. While these internal perspectives are essential, you may need to filter them before defining your requirements.
How do you do that?
Get opinions from actual customers.
As you’re putting together a B2B portal project, find out what your customers need most in the solution. Is it real-time order status? Quick price and inventory check? All of the above and much more?
Get as deep a view into this as you can. Use a combination of customer surveys and phone or Zoom interviews to build a picture of your actual customer needs.
You might be surprised at what you find out. Maybe customers don’t care about product images, but they do need to see real-time credit status, or they won’t place orders online. Maybe they need personalized pricing, real-time inventory, multiple ship-to locations…
Whatever information they need most, it probably lives in SAP ERP. Your customer service reps and sales staff can access it, but customers can’t get to it without a phone call or an email.
Which leads us to our next point.
2. Look for a portal that’s integrated to SAP on Day 1
What’s the single biggest thing you can do to become “easier to do business with?”
Choose a B2B portal solution that’s already integrated with SAP.
Believe it or not, this is low-hanging fruit with a solution like Corevist. And that’s good news, because SAP integration is the biggest risk to the project.
Conventional solutions will require a coalition of vendors to get off the ground (let alone support). With complex architectures supported by multiple vendors, these solutions tend to create technical debt. They will never be low-hanging fruit.
But you need SAP integration in the portal. Think about all the data and logic that governs your transactions. Everything lives in SAP, whether it’s customer-specific pricing, real-time inventory, product substitution rules, customer credit status—the list is quite long.
You don’t want to copy all this data and logic for the portal. If you need to change your business rules, you’ll have to update them in multiple places. Ideally, you want one system (SAP) acting as the source of truth for this data. And you want the capability to update it in one place, not several places.
Now imagine bringing that information to your B2B portal automatically, in real time. When you update data and logic in SAP, the portal experience reflects it immediately. Now customers can self-serve for every routine inquiry, even price checks and order placement, with every interaction controlled by your SAP business rules and data.
The key here is a prebuilt, managed integration. If you’re starting from scratch, using middleware or an iPaaS (integration platform as a service) solution to pass data back and forth, you may end up building something that’s too big and complex to maintain. Ultimately, this will create net-new technical debt for your organization.
A prebuilt, managed integration means the portal is ready to go on Day 1 and always interacts correctly with SAP—no intervention required on your part. Of course, you and your portal partner will want to spend time refining the solution (and integration) to fit your customers’ unique needs. But that’s a much easier lift than building your ERP integration from scratch.
This is why the Corevist platform includes 53 prebuilt SAP integration points that cover the entire OTC (order-to-cash) cycle for manufacturers. It’s also why we implement and manage our software—so our clients can become easier to do business with while focusing on their core competencies.
3. Configure SAP so it aligns with your business processes
By now, it’s clear that SAP integration is critical to a great customer portal experience. Everything your dealers and distributors need lives in the ERP. Your B2B portal should present the right personalized information to the right user—every time.
A solution like Corevist does this automatically, but we can’t do it without you. The key here is to configure your SAP ERP system to align with your real business processes.
Believe it or not, many organizations have years of configuration changes layered in SAP. This can create a lot of gunk—and that gunk makes it difficult to offer a great customer experience.
This makes B2B portal projects a little scary for IT teams. However, as the portal drives you to clean up SAP, you’ll see process improvements across the entire business. Your staff won’t need sticky notes, tribal knowledge, or complex workarounds to make your business run in SAP.
The key is to define which configuration changes you need before launching the B2B portal, and which ones you can defer till later. A partner like Corevist can help you make those choices in light of your business priorities.
STUCK WITH A DISCONNECTED PORTAL (FOR NOW)
4. Communicate as much as you can in the portal to streamline routine inquiries
When manufacturers come to Corevist with disconnected B2B portals, they usually fall into two camps. Either they used to show personalized data to customers (through SAP integration), or they never had that capability.
If you did have SAP integration and customers have lost that real-time transparency, you need to communicate empathy in the portal. A banner message apologizing for the inconvenience can go a long way, but you may want to consider some form of interpersonal outreach, too. If there’s a timeline for resolution, whether launching a new B2B portal solution or restoring the existing integration, you should provide it—but you’ll need to stick to it.
5. Temporarily hire more reps while you solve the portal problem
Nobody likes to increase headcount, but you have to do something if your B2B portal can’t show real-time information and your call volume is increasing. A temporary staffing increase could be the answer.
The key here is to set a firm deadline for launching a new B2B portal (or fixing your existing, broken integration). You’ll need this timeline so you can offer clear terms to new hires, but also to set customer expectations and regain trust.
6. Start building a business case for an SAP-integrated B2B portal
Let’s be honest, website banners and temporary staffing increases are stopgap measures. They’re treating symptoms, but you need to eliminate the cause of the problem.
In the digital age, you simply can’t create a great customer experience without a portal. For manufacturers, that means SAP integration is required.
Once you’ve done everything you can to stop the bleeding, it’s time to look to the future. Start building a business case for a new, SAP-integrated B2B portal. For concrete, actionable steps, download our whitepaper, Get Buy-In For Your B2B Portal.
NO PORTAL AT ALL (AND IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN)
7. Abolish robotic phone menus
This is a startling challenge. But if customers aren’t getting a self-service B2B portal anytime soon, you should consider ditching the robo-menu. While “dial X for this problem” provides a kind of self-service, it’s pretty cumbersome and frustrating.
If you can’t solve these problems with a self-service portal, the next-best thing is to connect customers with representatives as fast as possible. Ideally, you shouldn’t make customers fumble through confusing phone menus. A little hold time is okay (2 minutes is the industry benchmark), but you need to get them in the hands of a real person ASAP.
8. Restructure so every customer has a (partially) dedicated rep
This move isn’t right for every organization, but it’s worth analyzing. What would it look like if every account had a dedicated point of contact for routine inquiries?
Depending on the account size and amount of activity, that person could serve the customer on a fractional basis (alongside other assigned accounts), or full-time.
A dedicated rep (or dedicated team) offers a much better customer experience. There’s nothing like having a direct phone number that rings to a person who knows your business. It makes customers feel like they matter to you, which is huge in this faceless, digital age.
As you can imagine, a dedicated rep structure means…
9. You may have to hire more reps permanently
There’s no way around it. If your inquiry volume is getting out of hand and your orders are backing up, you’ll need more human resources to handle customer relations. This may be a permanent shift if your organization doesn’t plan to launch a customer portal.
But if you’re considering this route, you’re probably paying too much to serve customers. A self-service B2B portal offers considerable cost savings compared to expanding your customer service department. And since the portal offers real-time, customer-personalized data on any device, 24/7/365, you don’t have to worry about shift management to get that data in customer hands.
The ultimate solution: a B2B portal
If you’re hard to do business with, it all comes down to your B2B portal.
When you get the portal right, your dealers and distributors get a great experience when they do business with you. A clean, intuitive interface, coupled with their personalized pricing, order history, invoices, and more—all this makes your B2B portal a no-brainer.
And when that’s the case, delighted customers will come back again and again.