Is The Self-Service Customer Choosing Your Brand? 

More industrial manufacturers and distributors are enabling end-users with self-serve programs like onsite vending, digital ordering, EDI, and online product training to grow and take market share from the competition. Dorn Group’s J Schneider, John Gunderson, and Jim Perdue dive deeper.

Video Transcript:

John Gunderson: Today, we’re going to talk about customer self-service and what that means to manufacturers. So recently, the three of us were talking to a CEO about customer self-serve and what that meant to them. So we’re just going to have a chat here today, all three of us. And why don’t we start with you, Jim, on what you think is importance when it comes to customer self-serve for a manufacturer?

Jim Perdue: Yeah, John, I think one thing that came from that conversation, is it’s not just one functional group’s responsibility. So what we were trying to convey to the CEO is, your organization needs to be fully aligned on this. It’s not a marketing problem. It’s not a CX problem. It’s not a training problem. You have to be step in step to get the organization prepared and ready to fully implement that self-service model.

John Gunderson: Yeah, I think that’s great. J, you got any input?

J Schneider: No, I think that’s exactly right. I think it’s easy to overlook certain departments because you think of self-service maybe as the responsibility of a marketing function or the responsibility of one particular group within the company, but the reality is, it’s cross functional. It’s a cross whole organization. Not just one.

John Gunderson: Yeah. I agree. Another thing we were talking about was how manufacturers and distributors that we work with really struggle with customer interaction. So by customer interaction, I mean, someone comes in visits the website, downloads a spec sheet from manufacturer. They go look up some information. They watch a training video. A lot of our partners really struggle with what do I do with that interaction? I mean, if you think about it today, it’s really a call on you, that 20 years ago, they used to call you or your customer service team about, but now it’s a digital call. What are some of the things that a manufacturer or a distributor can do to do something with that call?

Jim Perdue: I love the context here, because if you start thinking about page views, clicks as calls, instead of just, “Oh yeah, they go to our website and then they, they find a number.” Really, this is your opportunity to start showing some value. And as you look through the self-service customer, what they’re doing, they’re in a different phase, they may be in the research phase, they may already be in the purchasing phase, or they may be looking for help because they’ve already bought it. So you have to make sure your organization is fully prepared to help answer these questions that historically may have just been a phone call. So that’s a different approach of content, and it’s not a, “Hey, we have one spec sheet that we’ve made a video.” It’s a always on approach where you’re continuing adding value.

John Gunderson: Yeah. I love that. J, you got anything to add?

J Schneider: Yeah. It’s interesting, Jim, that you bring that up because you talk about phases. And I think the unique thing here is that maybe 20 years ago, the traditional buyer journey was to move them through a traditional phase of understanding, education, research, purchase use, loyalty, things of that sort.

The reality is, is that people may come in and out of the research phase multiple times, they may be almost at the purchase phase back to the research phase, right? Back to purchase, think about it again, make adjustments. And so that can happen in a very short amount of time. And your point about you need to be ready, you need to be prepared to interact with them digitally in a self-service model, regardless of how often they come in and out of these phases. Because the idea that I’m going to talk to them on the phone and answer every question they have, and then they’re going to buy may or may not be the case today because there’s constantly new information coming at them, right?

We see this all the time where we talk to our clients, but we also send out information to them. It’s like, I didn’t think of it that way. Let me go back to the research phase, let go back to the ideation phase and understand is this the right approach? Because now we have some new information. And that can come 24/7 in today’s environment. It’s not like they saw a pamphlet or a brochure a week or two ago, and it’s all static. Everything’s constantly moving. So I think this phase approach you’re talking about, and bouncing between and in and out of those phases, is interesting. And being prepared to service them within that is critical in today’s environment.

John Gunderson: Yeah. I think that two really good points guys. I really think one of the things we were talking about earlier today over coffee was how manufacturers really struggle with that touch, right?

Jim Perdue: Yep.

J Schneider: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

John Gunderson: In most cases, they say, “Hey, somebody came and downloaded a technical manual,” or “I’ve researched this product. In” most cases, they don’t do anything with it, right? They hope that their distributor or their manufacturer will communicate with that person. Maybe they’ll send a lead to a manufacturer rep or a distributor and say, “Please follow up on it.” But they’re really hoping that they can get that message to them. But that’s really a pre-IPhone way of thinking, isn’t it? When you, hey, I got to trust and play telephone to get this message to this person, to this person, the message never gets delivered like you want. So one of the things I think you guys do a great job of talking about let’s start with you, J, is who better to control the brand message than the person that owns the brand?

J Schneider: That’s exactly right. I mean, brands can quickly get away from you in today’s environment, right? It’s the idea that as a manufacturer 20 or 30 years ago, you had some control over your brand. Today, it’s even harder. And so as a manufacturer, you need to really take control of that brand. You own it. It’s your responsibility. Now the market will take that brand, they’ll reposition it for you. Your distributors may or may not boost that, they may diminish your brand. They may misrepresent it, which happens all the time. Probably too often than not. So, the control of that brand, I think is imperative because that’s the start of that self-service digital engagement, right? That’s really the tip of the spear there. And everything from there falls in line. If you don’t have control of your brand, it’s going to be very, very difficult to have control or to work within a self-service environment for your customers.

John Gunderson: Yeah. I think that spot on. Jim, you got anything to add? Especially, in talking to your clients.

Jim Perdue: Yeah. I mean, I always look at it from an organizational readiness approach, right? Because if you are getting into this world where you know people are shopping online, they’re going to go in the path of least resistance. So you say, “Where do I start? I know I need better content. Look, I have videos.” I have spec sheets. Well, I would say, ask yourself, what is your CX team doing to be prepared to handle orders? What are they doing to make returns easy? How is your tech support team answering questions and how can that be automated? So I think it’s always really important to start with an audit and be very honest with yourself of where does my organization stand today, and how can I be better and closer to my customer tomorrow?

John Gunderson: Yeah. I think you have an important point. I think a lot of people still have their customer service team on a manufacturer basis to solve problems that were 20 year old problems. So, can I find stock? Can I get a spec sheet? Can I get a statement? Can I get an invoice? In today’s environment, you do not want your customer service team handling those calls. You want them handling technical calls, training calls, things that actually sell you product and create a great customer interaction. So I think really, as we talk, the modern manufacturer really needs to take those type of activities you talked about, and really make them automated, and drive real interactions into their customer service team that can grow the business. J, you got anything to add to that?

J Schneider: I do. I think one of the misconceptions is I need to take a format and a structure that I used 20 years ago and digitize it. Right? And this idea that I need to modernize this old format is really not the approach. The approach is rethink how you’re delivering status updates, how you’re delivering content, returns. It’s not like say, let me scan in this document and send it to them have them fill it out manually and send it back. That’s really not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about just redefining. How do you make it easy? Click, click, click return done. Right? On your packaging. If you need to return it, scan this QR code. Yes, return. Automated, self-service done, right? Versus filling out a form or going online and putting on a bunch of information.

So I think there’s ways to take this opportunity as a manufacturer to rethink how you are engaging to create a better customer experience. Right? So you have this opportunity.

I think the other point that we hear is you don’t have to do it all at once. Start with what you are strong at, start with what you know, start with where your company can implement it within a certain time, and then build from there. Right? You might have 20 things that you want to look at, 20 things that you want to change or self-serve your clients with, you do five, do eight, right? Start with a number that your company can implement within a certain time, and then build from there.

John Gunderson: Yeah. I love that. So let’s do a segue, let’s talk about training, right?

J Schneider: Sure.

John Gunderson: So let’s talk about how training has changed. We were all talking to some of our manufacturer partners and there was one that really just said, “Hey, I’m going to have my distributor support sales team go up make calls, right? And then we’re going to do a new product launch the same way we always have. We’re going to buy pizza, bring everybody in, and train them.” I mean, how has that changed? Jim, let’s start with you.

Jim Perdue: Yeah. Training’s a great place to start because it’s not just product training. It’s also understanding the application, the environment and the pain points. And so sometimes what we like to look at is I’ll go to a TSM, so technical support manager, what are your top 15 questions you answer? What are the top 20? What are the FAQs? What bottleneck do you have there? Because that needs to be put into a training program, a module, how you actually do the video. Because it’s not just about features and benefits, and this is how you do it, this is how you install it, it’s also understanding getting in the mind of your user, and what job really needs to be done. And what issues can come up with that application. And if you can address those, you’ve just given your customer something very, very valuable that they’re going to want to use and keep coming back to you for.

John Gunderson: Yeah, I think that’s great. And J, we were talking about online training or video training. One of the important points that you made was, “Hey, you can then go back and watch it. You can do all these things that are actually can be additive to your in-person training.” Talk about that.

J Schneider: You remember the ideas years ago, where you would have four or five individuals from your company, go out and do training? And then somehow the individuals you trained would connect with each other, and they’d be like, “I didn’t learn that. That’s not what I was taught.” And, “You don’t do it this way. You do it that way.” This allows you that single source of truth, right? This is the way the product is used. This is what you can or cannot do. This is how you maximize the operational efficiency of this product or how you maximize the ability to do the work you need to do.

But the other aspect of training that often gets looked over is the brand that we touched on earlier. And when you release a new product, that product may be an evolutionary product, it may be a revolutionary product, it may be just a line extension. But what happens in some cases, is that these new products can redefine your company. And that gets lost. That opportunity to redefine say, “Hey, this is really how you want your customers to see you in the future.”

Let’s say you are a manufacturer of cutting tools, or abrasives, or lubricants, or what have you. Don’t think of me as abrasive company, we’re really a technology company now. Look at all the tech that we put into this product and how we address these issues in a modern environment, so we’re really redefining who we are. And we can use our training, and our online self-service training to reinforce that brand message, or reinforce that who we are and what we’re good at now and how we are evolving as a company. Because your product launches are effectively a reflection of how you’re evolving with the market needs and conditions. That’s what it is, right? When you really break it down to that. So now, are you taking the opportunity to talk about your product? As well as you, as a company, repetitively, consistently with one single voice of truth?

John Gunderson: Yeah. I love what you said there. I mean, I think about it this way, right? When you’re in your house and you’re trying to fix something today, what’s the first thing you do? I mean, you go to a YouTube channel that actually the manufacturer puts out there, and you learn how to install the product, right? They control the message from start to finish. And every single person who watches it gets exact training experience.

J Schneider: Correct.

John Gunderson: And I think what’s interesting is, why aren’t we doing that in B2B? What do you think, Jim?

Jim Perdue: Well, I was going to add one thing to that, which I think we’ll get into why it’s not being done enough, right? I mean, we’re so used to the full service model, right? We’re used to that phone call. We’re hoping the customer will call distributor and distributor will point to the right manufacturer, right?

But today, the end user is more informed than ever. They’re ready. They’re doing their research. It doesn’t matter if they’re going to buy through the channel or direct from you, they’re going to be more informed than they’ve ever been before. So when you look at your training, your content module, you have to be fully buttoned up because you want to give them the answers and the value and build that advocacy towards your brand. And it helps your distributor out. Because the distributor wants the content and the help, so that they can point the end user to the solution and close the sell. So it’s a win-win situation on supporting the self-service model, it’s not something that you should be intimidated by, but really running towards.

John Gunderson: Yeah. I think you got an important point. We talk about this a lot. How in the last 20 years, the channel has changed, right? The channel of distribution has changed, especially in B2B. Where 20 years ago, the customer, if they wanted even basic questions, they had to call the manufacturer or distributor, they couldn’t go look it up, they couldn’t watch a video. Now the power has changed where the customer’s in control. And there’s a lot of things they’re doing that they used to call you for, they don’t want to call you for anymore. And I think it’s really imperative to build programs that allow them to self-serve when they want in the most effective way so that when you do get interactions with them, it can be about selling, and really product information that really drives demand through the channel. J, I’ll let you build on that.

J Schneider: You brought up a point and I want to touch on this. And we see this with our clients all the time. 20 years ago, 15 years ago, right? And when we asked a question, we understand what happened 20 years ago, we were all here. 15 years, we saw it live, right? Unfortunately.

But let me ask you, Mr. Manufacturer, what is the next 20 years? Do you want to do this for 20 more years? The model of non self-service, the model of taking a phone call to give a status update on an order or return, right? So fast forward and think about your future of how you want to interact, and I expect that it’s not going to necessarily be doing this same thing for 20 more straight years. The challenge is, is that how do you evolve? How do you continue to evolve that aspect of your business to better self-serve?

Customers want to self-serve, right? It’s difficult to debate that across most industries. There might be a few straggler niche markets here and there where that might be… But that’s not what we’re referring to here, right? This is the lion share of the market out there, want to self-serve. That’s where the value is, and how well you can self-serve and how efficient you can do that. And then reserve your highly specialized, highly value added add-on services for that intimate touch, for that very, very specific interaction that needs to occur to move them from where they are to a sale. Maybe offer additional things that they had not considered in their self-service selection, right? But there’s really only a few ways to approach that. And I think that understanding what your business will look like without self-service for another 10 or 15 years is probably going to look pretty painful.

John Gunderson: Yep. I agree. And one thing you said that I think is a really important point. We were talking about this earlier. Actually self-serve has so many customer service advantages. So think about the old days, right? The end customer calls the inside rep at the distributor, gives them the order. They swivel chair over, they type it in. They call the manufacturer rep, the manufacturer rep swivel chairs over, types the order in. That gets the manufacturer. All the errors that occurred by somebody mistyping one letter and that are just nonstop, right? That’s what happened. So, in a self-serve today model, when a customer puts the order in, think of the order accuracy, you not writing credits, you’re not creating a bad customer experience because you ship them the wrong item. They put it in, they send it to you directly.

J Schneider: Correct.

John Gunderson: I mean, Jim was really talking about that point earlier. I think that’s an important factor. It improves order accuracy, and improves the customer experience, and it drives your business forward. You want to expound on that?

Jim Perdue: Yeah, exactly. And we’re not saying you have to run out and spend millions and millions of dollars on redoing your tech stack and getting the best of the best, there’s places you can start just to meet the customer where they are today. Think about just order automation through an email function, right? Help them look through bottlenecks where your customer service may be tied up, your inside sales team could be tied up, see where you can help meet the customer for that order accuracy. Because what you’ll see, is you’ll start seeing an increase in order velocity, because the ease of use is so much better than in what it was before, right?

John Gunderson: Yeah. Well, and also you take cost out, right? You can actually have your customer service reps, really customer service reps instead of order takers.

J Schneider: I mean, let’s just think of a really basic example. Remember when you could start tracking your own package when you bought something, like how revolutionary that was at one point? It’s like, “Oh, it’s currently in Kansas.” “Oh, it’s currently in Nebraska.” “Oh, it’s almost here,” right? “It’s almost here.” It’s like, I can do this…

And now people could go and understand. “Yeah, it should be here by Friday.” “Okay.” I don’t have to call the manufacturer anymore. I don’t have to call the shipping company. I know it’s going to be here sometime Friday morning, early afternoon. Great. And that completely changed the dynamic because it’s just easy. I could look it up. And if I don’t trust the system, maybe I’ll look it up again in an hour, make it sure it’s still on its way, because that’s the person I am. I’m not 100% sure. It’s really going to go to Nebraska. So let me check again. “Oh yep, it’s in Nebraska.” Problem solved, right?

So I think that self-service model will give them a very different user experience, but it’ll also give them a different relationship with your company, because the information’s accurate. It’s always there. It’s available. If they forget what they saw, they can go back and see it again. I can go back and check. It’s like, “Is that going to be next week?” Or, “What was that invoice amount?” Or, “Did I pay that invoice? Did I not pay that?” They can go back and see all the information that they saw originally. So it gives them an opportunity to control and manage how they use the information themselves.

Versus on a phone call or maybe something that’s a little bit more archaic is, the status will be on Friday. Now if I didn’t write it down, and if I don’t remember what that person said or if I wasn’t I was in between tasks, I don’t know, maybe Thursday or Friday, it’s going to come. I’m not sure. Or maybe the invoice was $1,020 or maybe 1,200, I don’t remember. Right? The self-service model eliminates that. And really to the point it ups the value of what you’re providing, right? Significantly for some of the things that people in some markets today take for granted.

John Gunderson: Yeah. I agree. I thought you said something that made me chuckle one. You were talked about delivery. I mean 20 years ago, right? Distributors used to put on their trucks, “Nobody delivers like we do,” right?

J Schneider: Right.

John Gunderson: Why would you have that on your truck anymore?

J Schneider: Everybody delivers like you do.

John Gunderson: I mean, everybody delivers like you do. Somebody’s going to show up from DoorDash delivering, like you do.

J Schneider: Correct.

John Gunderson: Certain things have changed. And I think that’s an important part of self-serve. And I think one of the real critical factors is determining, in a workflow, what can you self-serve? I think Jim had some great points about, it doesn’t have to be complex. Not every order needs to be an online order. You need to just give them the information they have to be able to accelerate their business. Jim, you got anything to add?

Jim Perdue: Yeah. I think this wrapping that up. When you think of self-serve, start slow, look at areas that you can win, fix bottlenecks in your organization because time is so important. So if you can free up your technical service managers, your customer service team, your sales team to be proactively selling your solutions, you’re going to start seeing more wins. So don’t be intimidated by the amount that needs to be done, find a path that works for you and your organization to start. And we can obviously help you with.

John Gunderson: That’s great. J, you got anything in that?

J Schneider: I think that’s spot on Jim. The way I would describe it in addition to that is, if you can only take 50 calls a day as an example, you have to reserve those 50 calls for the most important business issues for your customers. Now, if they’re calling you because they want to know something that’s fairly basic, that’s a call you can’t take for maybe a critical business issue or something that really requires a more intimate touch or more direct engagement.

And so, because resources are finite, because you don’t really have the ability to service all customers unlimited amount, the self-service model makes a significant amount of sense. But the other thing, of course, that we say at Dorn here is that whatever you do, don’t do nothing. And that’s just a mantra that we’ve been using now for several years. And it’s imperative to understand that, to Jim’s point, you don’t have to start with everything. Take inventory of where your gaps are, take inventory of where you can provide value, and start with what you can do well, and bring that to your customer. And I think your customers will appreciate that and reward you with additional sales and business.

John Gunderson: Yeah. I love what you say. Don’t do nothing. You can start simple. You can grow it. That’s what we do, helping our clients do.

And I think just to wrap up what we talked about, if you view every interaction as a manufacturer, online, digitally, however it is, if you view it as a call on you, used to be a phone call, now it’s a digital touch, and you respond appropriately, you can then drive demand through your channel. You don’t have to play telephone anymore. You can communicate with that person, your brand message and drive demand that then comes back through your channel. And I think that’s really what we concentrate on with the clients that we work on. Thank you for watching. And please reach out with any questions.

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