The industry is buzzing with questions such as “What is your digital readiness factor?”, “How to unlock the benefits of digital transformation?” or “What are the best ways to build a digital smart factory?” Reports and analysts’ views on these topics are indeed valuable, but we decided to ask some of our customers in the manufacturing industry to give us direct insights into their approach and best practices. We went with one of our clients in precision engineering and what would be their take on the big buzz around Customer Centricity.
According to a McKinsey article “Industry-leading B2B companies increasingly respond to intensifying global competition by putting customer-centricity and experience at the heart of their strategy.” But with contract manufacturers not exactly being “born digital”, how can they catch up? How can they successfully transform operations, infrastructure—and more importantly—sales?
What exactly does customer centricity mean for discrete manufacturers?
Discrete Manufacturing: Low costs versus high expectations
Let’s burst a bubble straight away: Our customer admits that digital transformation measures are not a high priority in an industry where the clients’ cost sensitivity is directly reflected in the company’s operations. “When you are a contract manufacturer producing tens of thousands of pieces of a single design over the next five years, your focus lies on the equal amount of cost factors.
We will spend many hours, days and even months wondering how to hit target margins for a rather complex project while trying to find the best technical solution for our client.” Customer expectations run high when it comes to excellent quality and low prices. Meanwhile production costs need to be kept as low as possible to make this a business and not a charity.
How can discrete manufacturers walk this very fine line without falling off into the grounds of globalized competition?
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Customer Centricity has a direct line to cost centricity
"Our success largely depends on engagements remaining profitable over year-long running contracts. So, for us it is crucial to get customer requirements right from day one and delivering solutions in a complete and accurate RFQ. That’s what our customers expect.” But balancing the initial requirements with production costs is just the beginning. Cost management over the time of production and pulling project balances and forecasts at the point of contract re-negotiations are imperative.
This cannot be based on someone’s experience but needs to be backed by exact cost and production data in real-time to:
- Keep the business steady and
- The customer aboard.
With largely variable cost factors such as labor, raw materials, and purchased parts distributed over several plant locations and even countries, an informed and low-risk decision-making is key in this game. Sounds impossible? Hoist the digitalization sail!
Fast and not furious – the secret to a great customer experience
So how does a great customer experience actually look like in discrete manufacturing?
“I would describe our sales process like that: our customers will send us technical designs and extensive Excels filled with features, materials and several other attributes of the requested product. Our job is to capture all these requirements and come up with a production process and final design.
This includes the input of several teams, delivering capability considerations, process designs, material cost calculations, machine utilization rates and so on and so forth. It used to take us weeks to get back to our customer with a detailed RFQ.”
Digitalizing complete cost and production structures was the route to choose for our customers to create a flawless customer experience in the RFQ phase and beyond. With the capability to directly upload the customer designs and requirements into the system manufacturers can not only save time but guarantee that all data is correct.
A push-the-button cost simulation of a different configuration, material alternatives, or choice of a production plant is as close as it gets to looking into a crystal ball. It also proves to be the backwind needed to surpass competitive offers.
Customer Centricity as an opportunity
In a business with slim margins, it is evenly hard as it is essential to invest in boosting customer experience and operational performance. We won't go as far as saying digitalizing manufacturing sales will guarantee you always clear skies and smooth sailing. But according to McKinsey the win rate of offers can be improved by 20 to 40 percent, and costs-to-serve lowered by up to 50 percent when adding the wind of customer-centricity to your sails.
Factoring in the threat from increasing global competition, a digitalization strategy is considered a massive opportunity for manufacturers that want to go beyond their current horizon of profitability. As our customer confirms: “Customer Centricity for us starts right at the beginning when we send out that 100% accurate RFQ in the fastest time possible. It continues with us delivering the high-quality products our customer asked for and comes full circle back when we are rewarded with re-contracting while retaining our margins.”
Enabling customer-centricity is every manufacturer's goal. But should it really be a top priority instead of a "nice-to-have" outcome? Download and find out more with our latest Manufacturing Sales Handbook.