We’re living in the first decades of Industry 4.0 with its interconnected systems, automation, advanced manufacturing technology, and a mountain of data: databases, data warehouses, and data lakes. There is tremendous pressure to turn that data into meaningful and actionable intelligence and use it to provide exceptional experiences for customers. Experiences that will make doing business with you easier, build trust, and may even make customers love working with you.

For Industry 4.0 customers, digital self-service is one trend that is becoming a necessity. These customers want the ability to interact with a company on their terms and timelines. They want customer service interactions via email, SMS, mobile application, and web to be seamless experiences.

How do you get started? Begin by leveraging existing customer data, optimizing and integrating technology platforms, piloting new experiences, and incorporating effective change management. There is a path to intelligent, streamlined, and customer-centric service experiences. Experiences that will make your customers glad they chose you.

What does it look like?

These are just a few examples of what your customers want to do.

  • Scan a QR code to get information and a troubleshooting video about a piece of equipment or chemical without having to talk to a salesperson or wait to hear back from tech support.
  • Order parts through an easy-to-use portal at night after closing the shop.
  • Call customer service and have their call smartly routed to the right person via IVR technology.
  • Use 24/7 chat to get help with a 3rd shift factory line issue long after the sun has set.
  • Look up a product and get recommendations tailored to their company, industry, and needs.
  • Log into their customer account and see accurate and complete information about tracking and shipping, purchase history, and support tickets.

These technology-enabled experiences all lead to:

  • Increased Efficiency: Automated self-service systems enable faster query resolutions, leading to more efficient customer interactions.
  • Reduced Errors: A digitized parts-ordering process can eliminate manual errors and significantly expedite delivery times.
  • 24/7 Availability & Revenue: Digital platforms are accessible at all times, allowing customers to get service whenever they need it. And make purchases while you’re sleeping.
  • Enhanced Customer Satisfaction: With the facility to solve problems themselves at their own pace, customers experience increased empowerment and satisfaction.
  • Cost Savings: Automation and self-service options can dramatically reduce the costs associated with customer service.
  • Scalability: A well-designed digital system can adapt and grow with the needs of the business and its customer base.

Why change management matters

A digital transformation journey is full of obstacles, making change management a critical component of successful implementation. Change management involves preparing internal people and customers to accept, adapt, celebrate, and excel in a new way of doing things.

Strategies for effective change management

  • Communication: Clearly communicate the need for change and how it aligns with the overall business strategy, and what’s in it for your managers, salespeople, customer service, tech support, and customers.
  • Training: Equip everyone with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed.
  • Stakeholder Involvement: Involve all stakeholders, from executives to frontline employees, in the change process.
  • Pilot Testing: Before a full-scale launch, run pilot tests to identify any potential issues or areas for improvement. Take the feedback of frontline employees seriously. They’re the ones directly interacting with your customers.

What gets in the way

  • Complex service experiences with multiple touchpoints: Customer journey maps and service blueprints provide a roadmap to exceptional experiences. Human-centered design, product adoption metrics, and ongoing usability tests can guide UI/UX improvements.
  • Resistance to Change: A strong change management strategy that includes extensive training and WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) communication can help ease the transition.
  • Technical Glitches: A dedicated DevOps and post-launch support plan is critical to building and maintaining trust.
  • Cost of Implementation: Phased implementation and piloting allow for distributing costs over time, making the transition more financially manageable.

The evolution of Industry 4.0

As Sleater-Kinney sings, “The future’s here, and we can’t go back.” And there is only more future on the menu. Digitizing the customer service experience is a foundational initiative, necessary to enable the advances we’re going to continue to see in industry automation, digital twins, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), extended reality (XR), and the industrial internet of things (IIoT).