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January 7, 2021

The future of manufacturing is neural, making value chains more responsive, adaptive, personalized, and intelligent. This business imperative has pushed enterprises to build unique capabilities to enhance their position in the ecosystem. Personalizing customer experience, including after-sales services, has been on the agenda of leading enterprises in the industrial machinery and automotive segment in order to grow and gain competitive edge. 

However, COVID-19 has made enterprises take a re-look at their approach towards customer experience. Simply put, there is focus on accelerated adoption of technology to be resilient and adaptive across sales, marketing, and after-sales services.  

Automation gaining traction 

In a bid to free up human resources and ensure seamless and efficient operations, we see increased drive towards automation initiatives. The adoption of chatbots across business functions is a key intervention gaining traction in the industrial machinery and automotive segment.  

We see that most firms have planned or started on their chatbot journey for various touch points in the customer journey. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), deep learning, data security, user interface, and integration with other systems and platforms are key technological pillars in chatbot implementation. Some of the key use cases to leverage chatbots to deliver better customer service in manufacturing include: 

1. Assisted purchases for customers and channel partners 

Connecting customers when they visit a website or call the contact center: In the industrial machinery sector, customers often visit the website to get the latest product information or call the contact center to check on billing and shipping information and status. Similarly, in the automotive industry, customers often call to schedule an appointment for a test drive or get directed to genuine point of sales for product/service requirements. Chatbots can be efficiently leveraged to support these functions in both sectors. 

Connecting channel partners: With multiple channels in place, businesses are compelled to provide 24X7 support to channel partners to ensure seamless customer connect. Many of these players operate in remote locations, adding to the complexity in sales and distribution operations, and hence, depend on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for information and support. In such cases, chatbots can help with quick order booking, billing-related details, checking on availability of spare parts, customer history, and more. 

2. Information bridge for sales, marketing, and service personnel 

In real life scenarios, employees invest considerable effort and time in searching for information. Enterprises have the opportunity to improve utilization and efficiency by introducing chatbots in their processes and operations. For example, a service personnel can waste precious time finding information while on the site, which can affect business productivity. Similarly, sales executives often have to browse through multiple applications to get product details and updates during their interactions with customers/channel partners. This is where chatbots can enable persona-based access for quick information search and retrieval. They can also provide real-time alerts; offer data on key metrics such as product performance, sales, and leads follow-up; and aid in reporting and dashboards to save time otherwise spent on administrative tasks, lead qualification, and allocation. 

3. After-sales services  

While AI-enabled chatbots are not meant to replace contact center personnel, they can co-exist with humans to save time spent on routine operations, thereby driving agility in handling a diverse customer base and reducing the response time to address a customer query. Chatbots can attend to customer calls for Level 1 support in aftersales following standard operating procedures and also capture essential details to ensure continuity in dialogue. In case of complex issues, chatbots can automatically assign them to concerned technicians. In other instances, they can block spare parts and assist customers in procuring these. Integration with existing systems and databases as well as embedded intelligence in chatbots are key to reaping their full benefits. 

Crafting an effective chatbot strategy 

Based on our experience working with different manufacturing players and other industries, a key consideration while deciding on an enterprise chatbot strategy is a clear understanding of business objectives, target personas, and how to drive continuity in dialogue with them seamlessly, without repetition. It is also important to have a contextualized approach to keep chatbots relevant by providing continual training and driving adoption of chatbots by various personas - customers, channel partners, and sales/ service personnel.  

Organizations must conduct periodic customer sentiment analysis to see if there are any gaps or improvement opportunities in their chatbot strategy and ensure seamless integration with back-end systems or databases to maximize utility and improve compliance. Designing chatbot user interfaces is also integral to maximizing the usability and user experience. A successful chatbot strategy will help firms create exponential value for their customers by addressing their concerns in an agile manner.

Pooja Ranjan leads business development for Internet of Things at TCS. She has 17 years of experience across digital transformation consulting, cross-functional areas of sales and marketing, supply chain and innovation management. Pooja has worked across industries on multiple programs at the intersection of business and digital technologies such as IoT, advanced analytics, automation and mobility.

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