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How manufacturers can cut service costs with AI

See how leading manufacturers are using artificial intelligence to stay ahead of the competition.

By Ciera Nahale, Senior Product Marketing Manager

Last updated May 23, 2023

It’s fair to say the manufacturing industry is on the fast track to digital transformation. The pandemic exposed the fragility of our global supply chains, resulting in empty shelves and overstocked warehouses. Meanwhile, as the pandemic subsides, inflation is driving up the cost of goods and logistics, putting the squeeze on companies still recovering from the past few years. So it’s no surprise that manufacturers are looking for ways to cut costs whilst still maintaining quality.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can unlock savings and create better CX. Here are four ways manufacturers are using AI in customer support and seeing big results.

1. Implementing intelligent bots

AI bots can assist customers quickly, 24/7 by answering low-value customer questions (like where an order is and when it is expected to arrive) or surfacing relevant product documentation that a customer has questions about. Bots are also able to collect information from customers if needed, for agent escalation.

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, 60% of manufacturers say intelligent bots help reduce the number of customer interactions they have by deflecting simple questions. What’s more, 66% agree that AI/bots have driven significant cost savings over the past year.

Impossible Foods is a manufacturer best known for its Impossible Burger. The company used AI-powered bots to quickly scale support when a new partnership with Burger King introduced the Impossible Whopper and brought in a landslide of new customer communications.

“We needed to step back and figure out how we could scale our team”, says Gabrielle McCobin, Senior Manager of Customer Advocacy at Impossible Foods.

After the Burger King launch, Impossible Foods focused heavily on ticket deflection initiatives and introduced Zendesk bots. The results? A whopping 50% of ticket volume was deflected to the help centre, ticket forms and bot.

2. Remote troubleshooting

When something breaks, customers want someone to help them fix it. In the old days, this would inevitably mean sending a technician to resolve things on-site. Fast forward to today and AI can often troubleshoot problems without the need for any human intervention. When your data, systems and corrective actions are all documented and connected, machine learning can offer quick solutions to common problems.

Customers are eager for this kind of intelligent service. Zendesk research shows 69% of consumers think service agents should be able to help solve problems remotely and 61% of manufacturing leaders say the number of in-home repair visits has decreased as a result of virtual tools.

AI can also be useful on the production line before work begins. Manufacturers are using AI to train robots in pre-production and fine-tune processes for better speed, precision and efficiency. But IOT connectivity is useful beyond just smart factories. Surfacing your customers’ IOT-connected device data into a unified workspace shows your agents what a customer has already tried when a human is needed for remote troubleshooting.

Zendesk helped SMC drive efficiency and quality beyond the production floor. A unified customer view means agents can fulfill and invoice orders more quickly, improving time-to-cash but also making agents and customers alike happier.

3. Self-service automation

With the focus on factory efficiency, it can be easy to overlook customer experience. Many manufacturers still manually process new orders and customer claims. Some are even using old-fashioned ledger books or spreadsheets on desktops, which stifles automation and increases the risk of errors. Support agents have a harder time finding the details they need when a customer asks about an order. These manual processes also make it easier to miss orders and claims as the data isn’t connected. What’s more, it makes self-service practically impossible – without connected data, customers can’t find their own answers. It’s a frustrating experience for everyone.

Offering an AI-powered self-service portal for customers eliminates a lot of this manual work, boosting both efficiency and customer satisfaction. A simple form can collect all the necessary information, including uploaded photos, to automatically kick off the backend ordering or claims process. Self-service portals can also give customers an easy place to find answers to common questions without the need for human intervention. This efficiency is key for manufacturers who want to scale up their CX operations to drive loyalty and long-term growth.

4. AI-powered knowledge management

A man holding a power tool working on a vehicle

Customer-facing teams spend too much time sorting through thousands of product documents to find the right information on parts and machines. And the same goes for both back-office agents responding to emails and service technicians working in the field. Old-fashioned processes lead to long wait times for customers who can’t afford to wait and are willing to walk away after a single bad experience with your company.

But a knowledge management system can turn your most frequently used product documents into help centre articles that empower customers to troubleshoot issues on their own. This saves everyone time, and as the saying goes, time is money.

Ingersoll Rand overhauled its support processes and implemented a searchable knowledge base to better serve its customers. This was even more important because the manufacturer builds its products to last – Ingersoll Rand still services some products that are 50 years old.

Old-fashioned processes lead to long wait times for customers who can’t afford to wait and are willing to walk away after a single bad experience with your company.

“We didn’t have a central repository where everything was housed. You’d go to a filing cabinet, pull out a flimsy little microfiche and put it in this big machine to read or print something”, says Kelly Dees, VP of Global Customer Experience at Ingersoll Rand.

Needless to say, this became a resource drain and created backlogs of service requests. The company implemented an AI-powered help centre that houses a library of searchable digital manuals so customers can help themselves. It also gives agents contextual information on customers who reach out for support.

Building better relationships

Creating top-notch customer service can be a challenge when budgets are under pressure. The good news is that intelligent solutions are available right now. Manufacturers have the ability to shape the future with data – optimising operations, creating innovative products and improving customer experience. Deploying AI-powered tools can supercharge your CX without adding excessive complexity or overhead.