This is shaping up to be the Year of the Customer, in industries far and wide beyond the "usual suspect" of Retail. In Manufacturing, we are seeing a significant shift in focus across industry sub-segments toward a customer-centric approach that permeates the supply chain, corporate strategy, and operations. Leading manufacturers have adopted a "customer-first" mindset with unprecedented speed, and are seeking to drive that centricity throughout every business process that touches a customer at some point.
Keep in mind that for manufacturers, the "customer" is often not the end consumer of their product, but rather a distributor, a licensed reseller, or even another manufacturer. In a number of cases, the end user, whether a scientist or a consumer, is the customer, so these manufacturers have to manage a variety of customer personas. These customers are varied and the relationships with them can be complex, each bringing a different set of expectations to the path to purchase. Manufacturers are finding that managing today's customer expectations is not an easy task, but one that is being increasingly supported by Third Platform technologies like cloud, big data analytics, mobile and social.
In our recently completed 2014 Supply Chain Survey, the increased focus on the customer came through in a question about top supply chain priorities for the coming years. We asked 299 manufacturers across value chains to identify their top three priorities for their supply chain in the next year from a list of about 8 choices that included "improving supply chain agility" and "improving supply chain visibility." While "reducing costs" was #1, "Become more customer centric/improve service performance" was the third most popular answer, across all four of IDC Manufacturing Insight's manufacturing value chains. Clearly, we have entered into an era in manufacturing where the customer is assuming a prominent role in supply chain strategies and driving technology investments.
IDC Manufacturing Insights recommends that manufacturers hone in on a process that is most relevant to their channel structure and customer needs as a start. The figure below offers a selection of the types of business processes that are specific to B2B across manufacturing value chains for the phases of the customer lifecycle that are supported by eCommerce. Not all of them apply to each value chain, but this figure is intended to provide a high-level view of the types of processes that are part of the customer lifecycle that can be managed by eCommerce technology today.
Figure: Attract-Sell-Serve for Manufacturing: Placing the "Customer" at the Center
It is important to note the placement of the customer in the figure above. IDC Manufacturing Insights places the customer at the center of the attract-sell-serve cycle and the company on the outside because of the heightened customer centricity that exists in today's market. As several leading manufacturers have explained to us in discussions, we are in an age where no person in a manufacturing organization can ignore the customer. Every process, every decision, every action taken across and throughout the company needs to place the customer first.
In our recent report, Preparing Manufacturing Organizations for New Customer Expectations, (Doc # MI249558 - subscribers click here), we break down this Attract-Sell-Serve cycle further by our four Manufacturing Value Chains: Asset-Oriented, Brand-Oriented, Engineering-Oriented, and Technology-Oriented. IDC Manufacturing Insights sees distinct nuances in each manufacturing value chain that call for a more individualized approach. As manufacturers move down the path of providing a selling experience that reflects the uniqueness of their sales channels and customer relationships, IDC Manufacturing Insights encourages them to understand the value-chain specific opportunities and approaches that exist for supporting the customer lifecycle. Leveraging these distinctions will help to drive the optimal customer experience and deliver new levels of value to those manufacturing organizations that are putting the customer in the center of their strategy.