Customer Experience in Mechanical Engineering: Faster Communication Give Companies a Competitive Advantage

Joachim Hackmann

August 3, 2020

Image of Joachim Hackmann, Principal Consultant at teknowlogy|PAC, digital innovations, a data center in the background

Ever more mechanical engineering companies are focusing on first-class customer service in order to distinguish themselves from the – frequently global and cheaper – competition. Here, the optimization of the quotation process including price calculation and provision of all relevant information plays a crucial role. Automation and suitable platforms and software solutions should help to speed up the relevant processes in order to increase customer satisfaction.

In conversations with mechanical engineering companies, it has become clear that they believe there is great potential in answering their customers’ questions faster in order to increase customer satisfaction. And since greater customer satisfaction creates greater customer loyalty, which in turn helps to increase potential sales, mechanical engineering companies are well-advised to focus on short response times. Added to this: If customers have to wait too long for meaningful quotations, their satisfaction declines. Then they can wander off to the competition.

At mechanical engineering companies, reducing the time it takes to respond to customer inquiries begins with the creation of quotations. At many companies, this process has become very time-consuming, and the low degree of process automation frequently results in long waits for quotations. This is especially the case with production variants, where components are made for one customer to individual product specifications, as in case of engineer-to-order-process (ET). Here, the challenge for manufacturers is to calculate prices for each specific, individually developed product, create quotations, and provide the required documentation.

The greater the variety of product configurations or the more individual the components to be developed, the more time-consuming it is to calculate the prices for a quotation. And the process of quotation creation is frequently made more complicated by the customer’s need for advising, for they need explanations of which configuration of a machine fits their specific business requirements the best. Therefore, the manufacturer has to master the time-consuming quotation process and also have advising expertise on tap. 

In addition to the pure price calculation for creating quotations, it has also become more time-consuming to provide all the information customers need. This includes technical documentation, drawings, certifications, product data sheets, and test results that customers need for their own validations.

At first glance, these requirements are not new, for it was always necessary to provide customers with product documentation. New, however, is the quantity of required documents and the scope of the documentation. In recent years, these have increased significantly.

Customers need ever more information since the requirements for traceability of products and components continue to increase. For example, legal requirements such as the German product liability law demand detailed product documentation in order to be able to clarify liability questions later on.

For manufacturers and machine operators who order the components from their suppliers, detailed documentation of how a particular part or component was manufactured is essential. The required information can include details about how a product or component was manufactured, with which machine, at what time, by which employee, under which ambient conditions, and with which process parameters (such as temperature, pressure, etc.).  The more manual the process of compiling the required documentation, the more time-consuming is quotation creation.

For many mechanical engineering companies, it is difficult under these circumstances to make the quotation process more efficient. This applies especially for manufacturers that have grown significantly in the past 10-15 years and have neglected to adjust their processes and number of employees accordingly.

Another challenge for companies is to pull together all the information required for the quotation process from different internal departments. The individual areas have their own IT systems, and the frequently imperfect communication interfaces between the departments in question (technology, product management, marketing, production, etc.) make the situation even more difficult.

Cooperation between departments is crucial for making the quotation process more efficient. And this explicitly includes collaboration between the IT and OT worlds, for there are frequently communication gaps between these as well.

In my opinion, automation offers great potential for speeding up the quotation process including the provision of all relevant additional information such as technical documentation, drawings, certifications, and product data sheets. This begins with price calculation. A quote from one of my expert conversations makes clear what companies want: “[…]It would be nice if there were a product configurator that automatically generates a price proposal and generates the relevant drawings and documentation, so that we could send all of this to the customer.”

Software solutions can definitely help here. Today, there are numerous providers of Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ) applications who can contribute to automating pricing for the production of individual product specifications. A seamless integration of CPQ applications into other applications, for example CAD for drawings, PLM/ERP for product specifications, marketing databases for product data sheets and specifications (e.g. PIMs), and document management systems (DMSes) also plays a central role. Other important properties are a standardized data exchange and automated workflows between the IT and OT worlds for the most common customer inquiries.

The implementation of appropriate CPQ platforms for cooperation between departments and the automated handling of quotation creation processes give companies an important basis for speeding up processes. In addition to increasing customer satisfaction, of course this also has the effect of reducing searching and administrative work since there are fewer friction points. Another quote from the expert conversation puts this in a nutshell: “The digitalization of quotation processes and linking with other departments could save us a lot of time and personnel.”

In addition to technical factors, however, organizational aspects also play a big role. Thus, for example, existing communication gaps between departments that participate in providing relevant information have to be closed, which is why comprehensive change management may not be neglected.

With the appropriate technological and organizational measures, the requirements for first-class service can be fulfilled, and this begins with quotation creation. All of this guarantees greater customer satisfaction, which in turn promises to provide a competitive advantage over the global competition.

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