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Why manufacturers must shift gears from product to CX, powered by AI

As the lines between manufacturing and e-commerce continue to blur, discover how AI can help manufacturers up the ante on customer experience.

By Caroline Lee, Enterprise Account Executive

Last updated February 21, 2024

Times are changing. According to research, sixty six per cent of manufacturers are planning to launch their own e-commerce operations within the next two years. To anyone familiar with well-worn manufacturing go-to-market strategies, this may come as a surprise.

Manufacturers, goes the established wisdom, sell through distributors, who sell on to retailers or directly to customers. The brand itself has no direct contact with consumers—and it certainly doesn’t provide a direct customer experience.

So why is this changing, especially now? Well, in part because nothing succeeds like success. Upstart manufacturers such as Dollar Shave Club have been going straight to consumers for over a decade (you remember that advert, right?) and it’s working.

When Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club, it paid $1billion for the privilege. The direct-to-consumer market as a whole is worth more than $150 billion, just in the US. Why wouldn’t a manufacturer want a piece of that action?

Building it isn’t enough on its own

Build it and they will come. It started off as a quote from a cheesy Kevin Costner movie, then it became a meme, implying that just creating something—an app, a website, an e-commerce experience—was enough to win an audience.

If it was ever true, it isn’t any more. If what you build, and this includes an e-commerce operation, doesn’t offer a great experience, based on the highest standards of customer service, customers might try it. But they’ll soon just walk away.

Acquiring customers is only the start of launching a new e-commerce operation. You need to keep them—and that means keeping them happy. A recent survey by Zendesk found that sixty per cent of consumers have switched brands because they expected the new brand to deliver a better customer experience.

So, the question is, how can brands get on board with direct-to-consumer commerce in a way that delivers an experience consumers will enjoy? And how can they do it in a way that is as good as consumers can get elsewhere, when their customer service teams don’t have access to years’ worth of data on consumers preferences, habits, and priorities?

Use AI to turbocharge your customer experience, right off the bat

One of the keys to providing an outstanding customer experience is being able to recognise, even anticipate, customer needs, and preferences. Traditionally, this has relied on having historical data that allows you to predict current and future behaviour based on the past. It also required human agents to act on this information.

With the right systems, and the right approach, e-commerce providers can now understand and anticipate customer sentiment, even without that backlog of historic data. And with intelligent AI chatbots, they can turn this understanding into empathy at scale, enabling AI and human systems to work effectively together to deliver an outstanding customer experience, from day one of any e-commerce operation.

This works by using AI-powered systems capable of sentiment analysis—integrated into both text and speech-based channels—which can detect customer sentiment as it develops and changes. They can then tailor their responses to the customer’s needs and emotional state—delivering the quality of experience today’s customers expect.

According to our research, sixty seven per cent of consumers want AI-powered customer service that can adjust its communication and tone based on how they’re feeling. And if the customer’s query, or their emotional state require it, the system can transfer them to a human agent.

We shouldn’t be in any doubt about the positive impact this kind of CX-focused and AI-powered approach to online commerce can have for brands. The Zendesk CX Trends 2023 report found seventy four per cent of manufacturing leaders say that investing in advanced CX capabilities had yielded a positive return. As a result, seventy seven per cent planned to increase their investments in CX technology in the coming year.

Beyond sentiment analysis

Using AI to power sentiment analysis, as a shortcut to perfecting their understanding of customer needs and preferences, is one way manufacturers can use AI to turbocharge their entry into e-commerce. But it is far from the only way.

AI-powered chatbots and voice systems can provide customers with the information they need to self-service, helping to reduce pressure on human agents and accelerate average time to resolution. AI bots can help to triage customer queries, resolving simple ones first time and ensuring that more complex issues are passed straight to an agent with the right expertise.

The right AI-powered platform can even analyse the text of a customer’s query and present the agent with resources—for instance, knowledgebase articles—that will help them resolve the case in the shortest possible time and meet even the most demanding customer service KPIs. AI can even help manufacturers cut service costs. Research by Zendesk found sixty six per cent of manufacturers saying AI had helped them cut costs in the last year.

Computer manufacturer Arduino has forty three million users and sells directly to members of the public. Its single-board computers are bought by specialists and enthusiasts who have complex needs and high expectations.

Using Zendesk AI-powered customer service technology, Arduino achieved an almost ninety per cent customer satisfaction rating. “We are trying to satisfy the needs of many target groups. Zendesk has this possibility,” said Carlos Rodriguez, Interaction Designer, CX lead, Arduino.

Looking ahead

Using AI-powered technology, the manufacturing industry can offer a customer experience every bit as good as the one provided by retailers and brands that have been working with customers for years. Customer service team members can provide efficient, proactive, and empathetic service to customers with increasingly complex and sensitive needs.

Zendesk with its powerful new offering and intelligent heart of CX: Zendesk AI, can help. Read more.

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