It won’t surprise anyone that customer expectations have been rapidly changing, particularly in light of the events of the last year and a half. Those changes, however, began long before the global disruption in 2020.
For the last 16 years, the term Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, has been used to describe the situation that manufacturers and service providers find themselves in. There have been rapid advances in every aspect of technology impacting how people live, work and function in society. Both manufacturers and service providers are desperately trying to determine what customers expect in the era of Industry 4.0. Is it low cost and high value, asset reliability, ease of use, low effort, great personal relationships, or business model flexibility?
The answer is “all of the above.” Industry 4.0 is defined by the ability to apply transformative technologies that redefine how industrial and service companies interact with their customers. Tools include the industrial internet of things, easily accessible analytics, process and manufacturing automation, robotics, digital twin-style simulation, additive manufacturing, design and manufacture for service, and artificial intelligence. Industry 4.0 is driven by the availability of these technologies to boost efficiencies and become more agile. The competition, of course, has access to these remarkable tools as well, which makes it an adoption race. The few equipment and service providers to embrace them first will have a huge advantage over their competitors.
Customers are scrutinizing the equipment they need, the way it works, how reliable it is, how it can draw on performance and forecasting data to run scenarios and, more than anything else, how easy it is to do all of that. They’re comparing their interactions with equipment and service providers against those with individuals and organizations in their personal lives.
It’s been repeatedly referred to as the Amazon Effect. If I want to find out the details of what I ordered from Amazon in the past 12 months, they’re on my phone. I don’t need to call anyone, send a request or fill out a form. The same goes for the Uber effect: I order a service, get a price, accept it, they take my payment information and preferences, and the order is complete. Immediately I’m getting updates on the status of my order, who the driver is, what they’re driving, and when they’ll arrive. Customers are aware that there’s an easier way to do business today. They want a connected, reliable, easy, do-it-yourself experience in all aspects of their lives.
Businesses exist in highly competitive markets and face significant and fierce competition, yet they still schedule equipment deliveries and service calls on white boards, coordinate corrective maintenance calls between technicians and customers with telephone calls, and manually re-enter IoT data into spreadsheets. In a way, and more power to them, they’ve been successful in selling and servicing complex assets for decades with those systems in place. But how long will customers continue to accept that level of disruption and lack of data visibility in their business?
Ideally, customers want seamless and integrated solutions, as little effort as possible, and as much flexibility as possible. And eventually they’ll want the equipment’s output without the effort, expense, and administration of owning the actual equipment, a concept called “servitization” or outcome-based services. Much of the market isn’t quite there yet, but it’s moving rapidly in that direction.
Equipment manufacturers and service providers need to look at the rapid adoption of transformative technology all around them and evaluate their own operation in comparison to what’s available in the market today. How easy or difficult is it to do business with them? How accessible is customer data and transaction history? How difficult is it to order a product or service? That’s the key to outcome-based service: the manufacturer or service provider is 100% focused on doing what it does best, making and servicing its equipment.
In the end, what customers really want is to spend far less time worrying about working on your business, and more on their own.
Joe Kenny is vice president of global customer transformation and customer success at ServiceMax.