May 17, 2020

Adding personalisation to the manufacturing industry’s toolbox

Neil Hammerton
5 min
Neil Hammerton, CEO and Co-Founder, Natterbox, talks about the shift in the manufacturing industry
Themanufacturingindustry is in the midst of a tectonic shift.

It doesn’t matter whether a company’s product is automotive, electronic, constructio...

The manufacturing industry is in the midst of a tectonic shift.

It doesn’t matter whether a company’s product is automotive, electronic, construction or healthcare related – disruption is rife, largely due to new and emerging technology transforming the industry’s processes. The days of simple assembly lines have been leapfrogged as manufacturers are moving to embrace bold new production and design techniques. From automation and robotics, to 3D-printing and generative design software; there are a number of innovations helping to revolutionise the production line. 

Added to this is increased consumer demand, meaning manufacturers can’t afford to stand still. Companies must go beyond the product and connect with their customers in entirely new ways to stay afloat in today’s market and stand out from the crowd.

Hammering home the need for improved customer service

Customers are continuing to demand more from their manufacturing suppliers, whether it’s the end-consumer, who has an ever-growing expectation of the speed and quality at which a product is delivered, or the next stage in the supply chain demanding just in time (JIT) deliveries – both of which are putting an increasing amount of pressure on production cycles. No matter what you manufacture, your customers increasingly want high quality service, along with reliable products.

But what does this service look like and how is it achieved? To answer this question, manufacturers can look to the likes of Amazon or Starling Bank for inspiration. These companies are doing well because they create intuitive, connected and real-time experiences for their customers – and manufacturers need to do the same.

There are a number of ways that this kind of service can materialise, whether with a buyer’s app or a website that’s less a catalogue and more a guide on how buying the product will improve the customer’s life. Whatever the platform is, it must be linked and integrated with a buyer’s account, contracts and other services and be fully end-to-end, with no inconsistency – bringing together substance and style for a truly customer-worthy experience.


Recognising the importance of data

Manufacturers increasingly view customer experience as their competitive differentiator, with almost half competing on that basis.[1] But as customer experience becomes a priority for more companies, standing out from the crowd will become a greater challenge. The ones that do will be those that grasp the power of personalisation – which can only be achieved, and successfully scaled, by having complete control of their data. Data sits at the core of any business but is a commodity that many don’t use to its full potential, made up of priceless information that, when integrated with the right CRM tools, data can empower employees to deliver better services. Combined with completely integrated telephony, manufacturers can offer whatever customers need, across the channels they prefer, in a consistent, seamless experience.

Research shows that 70% of B2B buyers have already fully defined their needs before engaging with a sales representative[2].  This means that potential customers are likely to of conducted a great deal of research – mainly visiting websites and social channels - before making initial contact with a possible supplier. Visits to these online platforms can provide valuable data that can be fed into your sales team and help build a picture of each buyer, so they are prepared when that contact does come.

From a service perspective, existing and prospective customer information that is captured and stored in one centralised location means every sales rep can deliver smarter, more personalised experiences due to instant access to, and background knowledge of, previous interactions, contracts and other data. That same information can also be used to engage customers via preferred lines of communication, rather than forcing them to use anonymous contact numbers or addresses.

With the right data, manufacturers can deliver the personalised service buyers want, but at a scale that’s sustainable and efficient to their own businesses.

Collaboration is key

Most manufacturers rely on a mix of dealers, distributors and partners to attract, acquire and serve end customers. Once, this meant an arm’s length relationship, but now, consumers want to speak to the people that can have an impact as quickly as possible – they don’t want to speak to someone that has to speak to someone else, and ultimately become a part of a never-ending chain.

Managing the partner network is therefore key to delivering satisfactory customer service for any manufacturing organisation. This requires collaboration, and constant and secure sharing of accurate data between parties, so that the customer receives a consistent level of service, regardless of who they contact. But to do so, manufacturers first need to identify areas for improvement in their own customer service offering so they can not only deal with issues directly, but also share data insights to aid the smooth running of their partner networks.

Digital transformation for a more connected journey

Cumbersome, antiquated systems and processes will not help in this new reality of extreme customer demands – what’s required are tools that help build the experiences that customers want. As a result, manufacturers that can connect customer data with automation and artificial intelligence are leading the industry in digital transformation.

Adopting such technology is key to future proofing the businesses in unifying and personalising the customer experience across every touchpoint and channel, from awareness to purchase, to after-sales and service, repeat business and beyond. 

Not only do these connected journeys better serve the customer, they also drive new opportunities for manufacturers to grow revenue and stay competitive in an evolving landscape.

By Neil Hammerton, CEO and Co-Founder, Natterbox

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Jun 11, 2021

NTT DATA Services, Remodelling Supply Chains for Resilience

6 min
Joey Dean, Managing Director of healthcare consulting at NTT DATA Services, shares remodelling strategies for more resilient supply chains

Joey Dean, the man with the coolest name ever and Managing Director in the healthcare consulting practice for NTT DATA and is focused on delivering workplace transformation and enabling the future workforce for healthcare providers. Dean also leads client innovation programs to enhance service delivery and business outcomes for clients.

The pandemic has shifted priorities and created opportunities to do things differently, and companies are now looking to build more resilient supply chains, none needed more urgently than those within the healthcare system. Dean shares with us how he feels they can get there.

A Multi-Vendor Sourcing Approach

“Healthcare systems cannot afford delays in the supply chain when there are lives at stake. Healthcare procurement teams are looking at multi-vendor sourcing strategies, stockpiling more inventory, and ways to use data and AI to have a predictive view into the future and drive greater efficiency.

“The priority should be to shore up procurement channels and re-evaluate inventory management norms, i.e. stockpiling for assurance. Health systems should take the opportunity to renegotiate with their current vendors and broaden the supplier channel. Through those efforts, work with suppliers that have greater geographic diversity and transparency around manufacturing data, process, and continuity plans,” says Dean.

But here ensues the never-ending battle of domestic vs global supply chains. As I see it, domestic sourcing limits the high-risk exposure related to offshore sourcing— Canada’s issue with importing the vaccine is a good example of that. So, of course, I had to ask, for lifesaving products, is building domestic capabilities an option that is being considered?

“Domestic supply chains are sparse or have a high dependence on overseas centres for parts and raw materials. There are measures being discussed from a legislative perspective to drive more domestic sourcing, and there will need to be a concerted effort by Western countries through a mix of investments and financial incentives,” Dean explains.

Wielding Big Tech for Better Outcomes

So, that’s a long way off. In the meantime, leveraging technology is another way to mitigate the risks that lie within global supply chains while decreasing costs and improving quality. Dean expands on the potential of blockchain and AI in the industry

“Blockchain is particularly interesting in creating more transparency and visibility across all supply chain activities. Organisations can create a decentralised record of all transactions to track assets from production to delivery or use by end-user. This increased supply chain transparency provides more visibility to both buyers and suppliers to resolve disputes and build more trusting relationships. Another benefit is that the validation of data is more efficient to prioritise time on the delivery of goods and services to reduce cost and improve quality. 

“Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) is another area where there’s incredible value in processing massive amounts of data to aggregate and normalise the data to produce proactive recommendations on actions to improve the speed and cost-efficiency of the supply chain.”

Evolving Procurement Models 

From asking more of suppliers to beefing up stocks, Dean believes procurement models should be remodelled to favour resilience, mitigate risk and ensure the needs of the customer are kept in view. 

“The bottom line is that healthcare systems are expecting more from their suppliers. While transactional approaches focused solely on price and transactions have been the norm, collaborative relationships, where the buyer and supplier establish mutual objectives and outcomes, drives a trusting and transparent relationship. Healthcare systems are also looking to multi-vendor strategies to mitigate risk, so it is imperative for suppliers to stand out and embrace evolving procurement models.

“Healthcare systems are looking at partners that can establish domestic centres for supplies to mitigate the risks of having ‘all of their eggs’ in overseas locations. Suppliers should look to perform a strategic evaluation review that includes a distribution network analysis and distribution footprint review to understand cost, service, flexibility, and risks. Included in that strategy should be a “voice of the customer” assessment to understand current pain points and needs of customers.”

“Healthcare supply chain leaders are re-evaluating the Just In Time (JIT) model with supplies delivered on a regular basis. The approach does not require an investment in infrastructure but leaves organisations open to risk of disruption. Having domestic centres and warehousing from suppliers gives healthcare systems the ability to have inventory on hand without having to invest in their own infrastructure. Also, in the spirit of transparency, having predictive views into inventory levels can help enable better decision making from both sides.”

But, again, I had to ask, what about the risks and associated costs that come with higher inventory levels, such as expired product if there isn’t fast enough turnover, tying up cash flow, warehousing and inventory management costs?

“In the current supply chain environment, it is advisable for buyers to carry an in-house inventory on a just-in-time basis, while suppliers take a just-in-case approach, preserving capacity for surges, retaining safety stock, and building rapid replenishment channels for restock. But the risk of expired product is very real. This could be curbed with better data intelligence and improved technology that could forecast surges and predictively automate future supply needs. In this way, ordering would be more data-driven and rationalised to align with anticipated surges. Further adoption of data and intelligence and will be crucial for modernised buying in the new normal.

The Challenges

These are tough tasks, so I asked Dean to speak to some of the challenges. Luckily, he’s a patient guy with a lot to say.

On managing stakeholders and ensuring alignment on priorities and objectives, Dean says, “In order for managing stakeholders to stay aligned on priorities, they’ll need more transparency and collaborative win-win business relationships in which both healthcare systems and medical device manufacturers are equally committed to each other’s success. On the healthcare side, they need to understand where parts and products are manufactured to perform more predictive data and analytics for forecasting and planning efforts. And the manufacturers should offer more data transparency which will result in better planning and forecasting to navigate the ebbs and flows and enable better decision-making by healthcare systems.

Due to the sensitive nature of the information being requested, the effort to increase visibility is typically met with a lot of reluctance and push back. Dean essentially puts the onus back on suppliers to get with the times. “Traditionally, the relationships between buyers and suppliers are transactional, based only on the transaction between the two parties: what is the supplier providing, at what cost, and for what length of time. The relationship begins and ends there. The tide is shifting, and buyers expect more from their suppliers, especially given what the pandemic exposed around the fragility of the supply chain. The suppliers that get ahead of this will not only reap the benefits of improved relationships, but they will be able to take action on insights derived from greater visibility to manage risks more effectively.”

He offers a final tip. “A first step in enabling a supply chain data exchange is to make sure partners and buyers are aware of the conditions throughout the supply chain based on real-time data to enable predictive views into delays and disruptions. With well understand data sets, both parties can respond more effectively and work together when disruptions occur.”

As for where supply chain is heading, Dean says, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to see a shift toward Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and advanced analytics to optimise the supply chain. The pandemic, as it has done in many other industries, will accelerate the move to digital, with the benefits of improving efficiency, visibility, and error rate. AI can consume enormous amounts of data to drive real-time pattern detection and mitigate risk from global disruptive events.”


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