Manufacturing and Construction – How to turn Customer Service Portals to your advantage

Author: Magdalena Jetzinger

Illustration, welches eine Person in oranger Warnweste mit gelbem Hemd und gelbem Sicherheitshelm an einem Packband zeigt.

Staying ahead of the competition in construction and manufacturing, calls for companies to anticipate the needs, desires, and preferences of their customers. One way to do this is through a Customer Service Portal. From order tracking to material overviews, a strong Customer Service Portal enhances the customer experience and forms the cornerstone of a successful business model in the digital age.

Digitisation is moving forward in the world of manufacturing and construction. Companies in these sectors started to shift the focus of their business models: rather than a product-only strategy, they are providing services that enhance the customer experience (CX). Known as “servitisation”, this model is indispensable to companies at a time when sustainability, generational shifts, and a lack of qualified personnel are changing the service landscape.

Learn more about seamless Customer Service Portals from this IBM iX Expert Talk

Customers wish to be seen and heard. They want their business partners to respond to their concerns and preferences. A Customer Service Portal enables companies to do exactly that – using the data they collect via the portal to further optimise the user experience. At the same time, it helps companies overcome labour shortages by reducing the need to tackle queries manually, analyse customer behaviour and monitor material deliveries.

Digital tools for real value creation

One of the main aspects of the servitisation model involves developing a Customer Service Portal, which enables companies to provide a seamless B2C experience in a B2B environment. This is a strong entry point for industries that have traditionally been resistant to digital transformation. It encourages the adoption of digital tools without falling back on the excuse of the business being too complex to automate – or losing the personal touch. A Customer Service Portal is not intended to replace existing structures that work well. Instead, it enhances a company’s operation and frees up resources that can better be used elsewhere.

At this stage of the game, a Customer Service Portal would put a business ahead of its competitors, not least because of the sheer range of services it can offer. Tracking key metrics and delivery statuses, submitting support requests, receiving reference documents, accessing product information, and more: all serve to increase satisfaction, bolster long-term customer relation, and improve the company’s standing in the industry.

Learn, why classic online shops do not work in B2B.

Customer Service Portals: a closer look

In a B2B industry, an excellent customer experience is built on a foundation of understanding: that is, comprehending the needs, desires, and preferences of the customer. If a company can grasp how its customers operate, it can tailor their services accordingly and meet every requirement.

What could that look like in the steel industry?

Take the steel industry as an example: A strong Customer Service Portal should enable customers to receive and share relevant materials (data sheets, manuals, product information, etc.). This includes giving buyers the option to submit their own data to receive an offer tailored to their needs.

A Customer Service Portal is able to react to the Stakeholders’ different requirements, making it essential to provide the tools that each party require.

Use Case: Doka–B2B online shop

What could that look like in the construction industry?

Current challenges of an architect today, for example, can be ensuring that their construction principles and materials are sustainable. That being said, comparing various products, practices, and services requires a great deal of manual effort and time. This is why architects would benefit significantly from a tool that directly compares products based on their needs, and provides sound figures which help to make accurate project forecasts and calculations.

What could that look like as a project manager?

Another good example is a project manager working on a construction project. If inclement weather disrupts the work site to the extent that the manager believes upcoming material deliveries need to be brought forward, they can access the Customer Service Portal. Here, they can change the delivery times, request additional materials, cancel unnecessary orders and more. The result: minimal work delays and a project brought in on budget and on time.

Benefits of a B2B Customer Service Portal

Overall, a Customer Service Portal that covers many areas for different stakeholders and customer profiles can pave the way for more business success. There is plenty of opportunity to build in other helpful features, such as configurators, chatbots, product training, and assembly instructions (i.e., guided selling tools). These can all help customers make informed purchasing decisions. It is also worth displaying the various product pricing options, customisation options and quotation tools. This ensures the customer experience remains smooth, fast and seamless – which increases customer loyalty as well as the probability of repeat business.

In-house benefits: the employees

While Customer Service Portals may be designed primarily to improve a company’s CX, there is another group that can benefit from these tools: employees. A Customer Service Portal is a huge time saver by freeing staff to take care of more critical issues. This is especially relevant at present, given the severe labour shortages faced by the manufacturing and construction industries.

Consider a sales representative: Instead of becoming bogged down by support responsibilities and administrative tasks such as manually answering requests, adding orders to the system, checking material inventories, etc., they can transfer (certain) customer groups to the service portal. This is beneficial for both parties. Customers have direct access to the tools they need, while the service representative can apply their talents elsewhere. The result: more productivity and efficiency for the business.

The importance of considering the employee experience

What this implies is that it is important to factor in the employee experience when designing a Customer Service Portal. After all, the portal needs to be as user friendly and agile for the employee as it is for the customer. This calls for a culture of innovation, collaboration and continuous improvement.

Servitisation for success

In today’s digital world, success in construction and manufacturing depends on servitisation, or a shift towards a service-centric business model and logic. A well-functioning Customer Service Portal is a key element of this. It enables companies to anticipate the needs and preferences of its customers and make relevant information available in real-time. This elevates the overall customer experience, which positively affects satisfaction, loyalty, and repeat business. The time is ripe for businesses to focus on CX and harness the potential of the Customer Service Portal.

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