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From the Customer’s lens: Order to cash - the Issue of integration in manufacturing

Integrations are key to connecting up disparate channels and ensuring an easy process for your customers, without putting all that pain onto your internal teams.

By Caroline Lee, Enterprise Account Executive

Last updated August 30, 2023

Many of the largest manufacturers have grown through acquisition, and this means bringing together so many different business processes, making the decision on what to consolidate, and what to keep separate, often challenging to say the least. Many manufacturing business processes– such as order to cash– weren’t originally intended to be joined up. That has often resulted in a lack of visibility around the pre-sales and post-sales experience.

For many, orders are still accepted by email due to some of the challenges around integrating systems –despite investments in B2B commerce portals to process orders.

Connecting everything takes time, especially when new business acquisitions are thrown into the mix, says Christopher Davey, principal solution consultant at Zendesk.

“Telling your recently acquired distribution network that unless they process orders on your portal, they get nothing.. that’s just going to destroy your turnover.” That means taking a phased approach when integrating ERP systems with commerce platforms to port data across.

Electronic data interchanges (EDI), designed to optimise processes, may not offer a quick fix either–as suppliers and customers could be using multiple protocols. “Yes, there are middleware platforms like Boomi that can handle integration between the protocols…but you could have 1000s of customers…so again it takes time to get them all integrated.”

Against this backdrop, email can act as an interim solution, he says. “In many cases for our manufacturing customers, email just becomes another channel to handle inbound orders.”

Unifying experience

Disparate channels for customer communication can cause major frustration for teams handling customer queries. Industrial products manufacturer Ingersoll Rand decided to manage all its channels centrally through Zendesk from a phone and email system. The company has a $5 billion turnover and 5,000 distributors across the world.

“We had limited ability to report and capture KPIs,” says James Ripley, CX process and service manager at Ingersoll Rand in our recent vlog series on manufacturing trends and challenges. Since gaining insights into the customer experience, it has introduced a number of improvements aimed at fixing the struggles customers often face when trying to get their products fixed”.

Some key integrations include bringing a number of distributors onto the platform to conduct warranty evaluations and repair products–helping it meet a rapid five-day turnaround goal. It has also used Zendesk’s API to create a shipping sidebar application for agents to generate shipping labels and customise instructions for each and every request.

And it recently completed another integration with the warranty backend system to simplify warranty claim submissions. “It gives Zendesk agents the ability to submit claims and see their status, all within the console.”

Future of CX in MFG

Ripley believes there is huge potential for further innovations in the sector, particularly around messaging.

“Messaging is perfect for product support and parts servicing. If you can manage self-service elements directly in the same user interface, people will just use it all the time.” If the customer drops off from messaging and uses their phone or sends an email instead, that’s part of the same interaction history and the agent can continue without interruption.

“It’s just a natural extension to what we’ve been doing on other channels and I do think it’s going to become convenient and efficient going forward,” says Ripley.

While the sector still has some way to go–just 54 per cent of leaders in manufacturing said agents were able to access conversations across all support channels in one place–a number also recognise the need for change. Of the manufacturing leaders questioned, 69 per cent said they are rethinking the entire customer journey to build a more fluid experience to assist customers, according to Zendesk’s Customer Experience (CX) Trends Report 2023.

In the race for winning new business and gaining loyal customers, manufacturers must put customer experience front and centre–or risk losing out to competitors who already are.

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