More than ever before, individual consumers are becoming intimately involved in every stage of home renovation and construction. Digitally-savvy home owners are empowered by their access to information—conducting research on manufacturers of commercial siding or plumbing fixtures anywhere, at any time. Consumers expect a seamless experience from their favorite DIY blog to their social media accounts to, ultimately, an e-Commerce retailer or brick-and-mortar store for a purchase.
These new buying behaviors are dismantling the indirect distribution model that the building products industry has long relied on. Manufacturers can no longer depend solely on dealers, builders or contractors to get products into the homes, or businesses, of buyers. Technological innovation and increasing globalization requires OEMs to own the direct business-customer relationship. The building products industry must be prepared to not only interact with the end consumer, but to provide value through every stage of the customer experience (CX).
Returning the Brand Voice to Manufacturers
In the past, OEMs were happy to pass the customer relationship off to distributors or affiliated partners. There was no need to invest heavily in marketing, sales or customer services teams to deal directly with the end users. It was believed that distributors better understood the challenges and goals of the individual consumer and could, therefore, provide better a stronger CX.
However, as has happened with similar industries affected by digital disruption, the indirect distribution model has lost its effectiveness. Customers want access to information directly from the manufacturer on desired products. When OEMs fail to provide accessible information to end-users, or distributors, they begin to lose their voice in the conversation. Distributors are left to handle the customer experience on their own, leaving the brand story up for open interpretation.
Luckily, there are many small ways building products manufacturers can begin to reclaim their voice without disrupting their business model overnight. These strategies have been proved by data to not only enhance CX, but to also provide valuable customer insight to OEMs.
- Influencer Marketing: Word-of-mouth is one of the most effective forms of marketing. Influencer marketing takes that strategy and amplifies it through social media and content creation. According to Ion, 71% of consumers are more likely to buy based on a social media reference. Partnering with an influential figure with a celebrity status in a selected industry can help manufacturers gain more control over the conversation with end-users.
- Social Monitoring: Social media is not simply a broadcast platform. Many businesses, both B2C and B2B, have realized that the true power of social media is reaching the right people at the right time with helpful solutions. In a study by Hootsuite, 59% of Americans that agree social customer service makes it easier to get answers and resolve consumer issues. By responding quickly to customer concerns on social media through active monitoring, manufacturers can improve CX instantly.
- Chatbot Integration: Artificial intelligence (AI) applications do not have to be a far-off reach for building products manufacturers early in their digital transformation. Chatbots are simple AIs with customized branching logic used to respond to requests from website visitors. Chatbots are becoming so popular that by 2020, 80% of businesses are expected to have some sort of chatbot integration. By installing this AI onto a company website, OEMs can field simple customer questions instantly while saving time and resources.
Owning the Customer Experience through e-Commerce
While the above strategies offer building products manufacturers opportunities to shape the customer experience, they do not completely solve for the challenges presented by the indirect distribution model. However, a direct-to-consumer e-Commerce platform provides OEMs with the opportunity to own the customer experience while reducing overhead costs and providing greater value to end users. This digitally-enabled model can offer customers and manufacturers alike the following:
- All-in-One Shopping: An e-Commerce website provides visitors with the opportunity to fulfill multiple needs in one location. While product and service purchasing would serve as the main purpose of the e-Commerce platform, the website could also host design services, product information, supplemental products, installation services, and more.
- Omnichannel Strategy: While many customers enjoy the convenience of shopping online, they may make their final purchasing decision at a brick-and-mortar location. However, only 12% of companies admit they can provide a seamless hand-off between channels. When an e-Commerce website is developed, it is important to include an omnichannel strategy for customer touchpoints across all channels.
- Customer Insights: By tracking customer behaviors and trends through Google Analytics or other analytical reporting software, manufacturers can begin to gain greater insight into customer expectations. For example, a lumberyard may manually order clay roof shingles from a manufacturer’s e-Commerce store once a month. The manufacturer can use this customer insight to add a new feature to their website, offering automatic fulfillment planning.
Reclaiming the customer experience can be difficult for an industry once happy to let others control the relationship. But with the rise of the empowered, digital consumer, building products manufacturers can no longer allow the indirect distribution model to hinder the potential of the consumer-business experience. In the digital economy, those who prioritize CX in the building and construction industry today will obtain a competitive edge in a market ripe for disruption.