When you think back to the beginning of this year, it’s not likely you could ever imagine the way 2020 has gone. The COVID-19 pandemic has left even the healthy among us with a strong dose of cabin fever as we have to stay home. A result of this is that more and more people are changing their behaviors and companies are changing their business models to suit this.
From entertainment to fast food to grocery shopping, everything is becoming virtual and can be ordered online. But what if you’re a manufacturer who doesn’t have a virtual presence? Let’s look at how to pivot your company to accommodate online business.
What happens if you aren’t a virtual company?
The current state of our economy has shown that having an online presence is a must in order to survive. And the manufacturing industry has been especially hard hit by this. In April of 2020, manufacturers in the US lost 1.33 million jobs, with the majority of those (over 900,000) being in the durable goods markets. That is the lowest total employment for manufacturers in a decade.
Besides the problems of running manufacturing lines with social distancing rules, it’s also difficult for manufacturers of housing and construction products to do their jobs. They can’t travel to homes to do measurements and estimates. For instance, if you manufacture and install custom-built closets or kitchen cabinets, it’s almost impossible to get out to do the necessary measurements for the build and install.
The worst-case scenario for many businesses is that they are closing and filing for bankruptcy. Even those which aren’t closing down are having to lay off employees, or are cutting back so much on services that other companies are poised to step in and take their clientele.
This is a real problem for many businesses. By not having a tech-savvy virtual presence, they have opened the door for those who do to put them out of business. It’s hard to survive in these times without that edge over your competition.
How can a company become a virtual business?
The news isn’t all bad. It’s actually easier than ever to create a virtual presence online.
Here are a few ways your business can expand its scope to better support customers during these changing times:
- Website Ordering or Quote Requests — If your website doesn’t allow customers to order online (or request a quote online), this should be your first step. Creating an online showroom and the means to communicate with your customers about their needs is one of the biggest improvements you can make. It will also be one that you can build on later.
- Self-Service — One of the best ways to give your customers a better overall experience is to let your customers personalize your products themselves. This can go from changing the color or material to more dramatic customizations that use CPQ software to configure a product that fits their needs. Ultimately, businesses are realizing a “one-size-fits-all” approach to products and services is not what customers want. They have specific needs and your products should be able to meet those (or else expect to lose them to a competitor). To handle this, you should consider incorporating CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) software onto your website so that customers can “build” their own products and place the order they need.
- 3D/2D Visualization — CPQ software is great for allowing your customer to experience visualizing the products they’re ordering. Here, the customer can view a real time 3D or 2D visualization of their product as they are customizing it. When they change a feature, the visualization updates live to let them see exactly what they are getting.
- Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality — Another area looming on the horizon is the ability to use Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) to allow customers to see a digital version of the product in the real world. Imagine the possibilities if a customer can hold up their phone to see how a fully-configured product looks directly in their living room.
- Virtual Tours — One of the biggest technological developments of the pandemic has been the use of remote meeting software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. These can be incorporated to allow customers to take a look at your showroom and can also be used for you to view their home if you need to do any measurements for installation work. This reciprocal nature allows you to build a relationship with the customer and not just be a faceless entity on the Internet.
The post-pandemic world may not look like the world we knew before. Everything from education and healthcare to business and industry are changing permanently. Face masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizing are becoming part of the new normal and so is the necessity of a virtual presence for businesses. This isn’t about something that will make your business successful in a few years. This is about doing what you can to keep your business afloat and stay competitive in the months and years to come.