The Hunley Herald
The Building Materials Zeitgeist
Theme 5: People are swimming naked.
Between April and May of 2022, Hunley strategists sampled the outlook and collected pain points from a sample representation of our clients across the building materials manufacturing sector.
One of the main themes we ran across is the shortages in the Building Products Industry.
Warren Buffett famously said, “when the tide goes out, you see who’s been swimming naked.” In this case, the tide is the hot demand for new homes, construction, and renovation. The extreme supply chain pressures have meant that the customers had little buying power or choice. The tide has been very, very high, covering up all sorts of sins in customer service.
When that worm turns, customers will once again have competitive choice and pricing power. And they’re going to remember who treated them best, who was straight with them, communicated well, and met their commitments.
Here the key phrase is Being Easy to Do Business With. And most of our clients would say that they’re mediocre at best in this area. In our opinion, this represents perhaps the best opportunity for companies in this sector to get ahead of the curve.
There are several elements to this. Customers see this as providing complete information to their customers, with the ability to transact as they choose, accessed in the manner and when they like, through communication channels of their preference. And above all, prompt, thorough, and proactive follow-ups to requests and questions.
A sampling of viewpoints:
- “We’re trying to make it easy for people to do business with us. The reality is that we’re hard to do business with.”
- “The phrase ‘We are not easy to do business with does resonate with me.”
- “We have to put a case management system in place because we’re constantly dropping balls, we can’t collaborate and share information, and customers get very frustrated with us.”
- “How do we ease interactions with our customers?”
- “We’re not exceeding expectations; at least we can try to manage them.”
- “Customer Service uses Excel to track trouble tickets. They’re ‘too busy to learn a new system right now.”
Theme 6: We’re so far behind
Everyone we speak to thinks their particular sub-segment of building products is the most behind the times with technology adoption and digital transformation. Considering our position implementing that technology for them, compared to other industries, it isn’t easy to disagree.
There are key tie-ins between the technology lag and Theme 3 and 5.
Re-establishing good sales process discipline leverages core CRM capabilities, and essentially all of our clients have those fundamentals in place within Salesforce. Not a heavy lift to get back to “good”; that’s just elbow grease.
However, leveraging technology for customer service is a different story:
- “Where’s my stuff,” “my stuff is broken,” “I got the wrong stuff,” “I didn’t get all my stuff,” or “I don’t want this stuff; please take it back” are the core themes in customer service for clients. That’s fundamental case management for trouble ticket follow-up within Salesforce. It’s a mixed bag out there with clients using this versus Excel or Post-It Notes. And track-and-trend on root causes and continuous improvement? Uh. No.
- Communicating with customers in the method they prefer requires “omnichannel” – at minimum, a mix of integrated phone systems, email, SMS text messaging, and live chat from the website. In a construction world where contractors live on their mobile phones, we continue to be astounded by how few clients have integrated text messaging into their platforms. That is, again, not a heavy lift.
- Allowing customers ready self-service access to information requires a well-structured portal with the right data embedded. Across all our dozens of manufacturing clients, while most do have order and shipment data synced into Salesforce, we have precisely three who have implemented a Salesforce Customer Community. And exactly one who has “mobilized” it to a cellphone app on the Apple App Store or Google Play.
- Finally, allowing customers to transact through their preferred avenue does imply e-commerce. A minority of clients have an active interest in e-commerce; virtually none have implemented it.
A sampling of viewpoints:
- “The [sub-sector of your choice] is backward and behind the times.”
- “We’re maybe a teenager in our tech & process maturity” [this comes from the client Hunley would consider our most advanced in digital transformation]
- “Our pain point? We’re the most-forgotten, the least-touched market in [#marketofchoice] with software platforms.”
- “So many trends on how to get information to customers faster and more accurately; what’s getting lost is how these platforms come together.”
The feeling of not being easy to do business with and topping that with what they feel is a technology adoption that is lagging makes many in the building materials industry feel inadequate and uneasy for when this tide finally does change.