Digital Product Companions Enable Self-Service for B2B Manufacturing Customers

B2B manufacturers have traditionally allowed customers to ‘self-serve’ at the point of need by providing information and guidance with their products in the form of user manuals, training guides, and other similar materials. In today’s digital business landscape, customers demand that same information seamlessly through technology, for easier access and to achieve greater levels of productivity. This article will detail how manufacturers can provide that for their customers.

What do we mean by self-service?

If you’re a B2B manufacturer, your ultimate goal should be to make your customers as productive as possible. In order to achieve maximum productivity from a piece of machinery or equipment in the workplace, its operator must be able to use it without any delays, complications, or issues, and simply be able to get on with the task at hand uninterrupted.

When issues do arise with a product, the operator will almost always want to be able to resolve it, or at least diagnose and troubleshoot, by themselves. This is what we refer to as ‘self-service at the point of need.’ People generally desire this self-service in the workplace because seeking external support or talking to a customer service agent can be time-consuming, confusing, and often frustrating.

What that self-service typically involves in practical terms is the operator accessing certain information about the product they’re working with, to be able to use it, and be able to keep using it should anything go wrong.

This ability to self-serve when using a product in the B2B space is essential, as there will invariably be time and money at risk whenever the end users’ productivity is lost. If these things suffer, you’ll soon feel the effects of dissatisfaction from your customer, and a negative impact on revenue will inevitably follow.

What’s the aim of self-service?

When looking to self-serve at the point of need, the jobs that must be done or that an operator will want to undertake will often require detailed information, guidance, or even training-based content in some capacity. So the aim of giving customers the ability to self-serve is essentially to allow them to complete any task, by themselves, necessary to ensure they can do their job.

Why is that? Well, in theory, if they can use the product without needing to seek the help of an external source of customer service, it will reduce down time, remove complications and frustrations, and also minimise the loss of productivity in the workplace.

How is this delivered today?

old-manualTraditionally, self-service at the point of use of the product would be facilitated by the distribution of user manuals, product guides, and other static sources of information to accompany the products.

But in today’s manufacturing landscape, this self-service information is often delivered in an uncontrolled, or inconsistent manner, with lots of different sources of conflicting information, and disparate systems of access. That can be very problematic and counterproductive for those workers in need of support while operating their machinery or equipment.

Someone experiencing problems should not need to contact customer service, because all the information regarding a fault or defect with their product, and how to fix or remedy it, should be available to them already. Only when the problem is so severe that it requires more than self-service, would there be a need to engage with an external source of support.

Preferences for consumption have changed

Traditional formats such as large, heavy product manuals, paper-based user guides, and PDFs which can only be access via a desktop computer, are inefficient and severely outdated. The information products now require to support them is rarely optimised for users in the field or on site, not streamlined for easy accessibility, and not available when and where the users really need it.

But since the introduction of the iPhone a decade ago, even workers in typically rugged environments now have mobile devices in their pockets which can withstand poor connectivity, bad weather conditions, provide hands-free usability, and even respond to voice commands.

This proliferation of mobile technology is an opportunity which cannot go to waste, and has forced manufacturers in all sectors to step out of their comfort zone and provide digital-first solutions and services, tailored to the preferences of the modern customer and their product operators.

With the trends defining the current market, such as anytime, anywhere access to limitless information in the form of a mobile device and often dedicated mobile apps, customers are now demanding this independence and flexibility with all their products. This has caused a significant shift in their expectations of their B2B manufacturers, which – as we’ve explained here in this recent post – cannot be ignored.

So what does this mean for self-service at the point of need in today’s technology-centric workplace? Product manuals and user guides should be translated from existing hard copies into more intuitive, flexible, and user friendly digital formats.

So what’s the best approach?

The most suitable, cost-effective, and dynamic way to do this is by placing all your product information and services into the context of a dedicated mobile application.

A ‘digital companion’ mobile app can contain all the information and in-depth detail of an extensive manual, and can also offer training and provide an instant, direct channel of communication with external support – such as a phone call or even live chat – should the customer need it.

This seamless customer experience can be even further enhanced when considering mobile apps leverage advanced features such as personalisation, location-based services, videos, barcode scanning for product-specific information, and even more possibilities with the IoT.

Unlike a physical hard copy of a large, heavy manual which is inconvenient to store and even less convenient to carry on site, apps can be securely distributed company-wide to users’ personal mobile devices, and can be updated instantly whenever necessary with the simple tap of a button. This can include anyone from customers, to employees, to distributors and dealers, and other third-party stakeholders.

And the key here from a manufacturer’s perspective is that, thanks to the technology available today, translating existing paper-based documentation into a consumer-grade mobile app is easily done. By working with an experienced, customer-focused partner with the sufficient digital tools, you can achieve this transformation – from legacy processes to digital – in a gentle number of easy steps.

And what does that look like in practice?

If you’re wondering what this kind of digital product companion might actually look like, there are a number of forward-thinking manufacturers leading by example and innovating their business models to provide them already.

A leader in this space is Liechtenstein-based global manufacturer Hilti, who designs and produces leading-edge technology, software and services to power the professional construction industry. With over 27,000 employees across 120 countries, an organisation like this has evolved beyond traditional manufacturing to offer a true 360-degree omni-channel service, including mobile applications. This is a fine example demonstrating a true understanding of what the customer needs.

Of course, this is a very advanced case. A global organisation like Hilti has the resources and the budget to undertake a complex challenge like this themselves. For most businesses, it will be necessary to leverage partners and solutions which can provide the skills and expertise to create such services within budget. If that sounds like you, don’t hesitate to reach out to us here at MobileCaddy, as we’re always happy to talk and are here to help.

Final thought

Self-service is something every business must provide its customers in some capacity. Traditionally, that has been a time-consuming, low-value experience for all involved. But in today’s digital business landscape, this is gaining far more importance due to the capabilities of technology towards a customer’s productivity, and the positive results this can have.

The right output of delivering that self-service information at the point of use, through a dedicated mobile app, is the best way for you to achieve positive customer satisfaction and success.


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