Although many people are bearish when talking about manufacturing — saying that “jobs are moving overseas” or “nothing is made locally anymore” — the U.S. is actually on track to become the world’s most competitive manufacturing country by 2020. Still, that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of modern manufacturing challenges.
Maybe you struggle to find and retain talented workers. Or maybe distributors just aren’t buying as much product as before. Or maybe you have no involvement in manufacturing at all, and you found yourself here out of pure curiosity. That’s fine, too. Everyone’s welcome.
But if you are in the industry and you experience any of these seven common manufacturing challenges, just know you’re not alone. This list should provide some insight into recurring problems and offer suggestions to fix them with some smart communication strategy.
1. Changing Consumer Trends
Over the past several years, businesses have clearly seen changes in consumer shopping patterns. First, customers preferred shopping online instead of traveling to a store. Now, they’re more inclined to shop with their mobile phone than on a computer.
But what they’re buying also changes. At one time, people viewed smoking cigarettes as a commonly accepted practice, and some even marketed it as a healthy activity. Today, consumers are consuming less sugar, which is disrupting the food and beverage industry.
New information and changing fads cause certain products to rise in popularity and go out of style. Listening to end customers, not just distributors, is key to modifying your products or practices to stay ahead of the trends.
2. Greater Competition
Along with changing consumer demand, new products and competitors enter the space. Young buyers especially look for specialty brands over long-standing manufacturing giants. And these niche businesses can take a hefty bite out of an existing company’s profits.
Obviously, producing quality products is a key step in staying competitive. But some upstart competitors are here to stay, so you’ll have to cut costs somewhere to continue generating revenue.
Fortunately, phone, web and video conferencing solutions make it possible to keep employees connected without reducing your footprint. Consider a cloud-based solution from a hosted provider to reduce technology costs and open up space within your current facilities.
3. Selling Directly to Consumers
In another change to consumer buying habits, today’s shoppers go straight to the source for everyday products. According to research from PwC, 20 percent of consumers are more likely to buy everyday items in bulk from the manufacturer’s website than from a retailer’s site.
What’s more, retailers are changing the game, too, by buying or partnering with direct-to-consumer businesses. Examples include Unilever’s Dollar Shave Club, Target’s line of Harry’s shaving products and Campbell Soup’s Chef’D. With a stake in these products, retailers have less incentive to buy from other manufacturers.
Whether it’s adding a purchase option on their website or opening an outlet store, plenty of manufacturers are starting to sell directly to consumers. But it doesn’t come without new manufacturing challenges. If you haven’t already, purchase a contact center and IVR solution to handle inbound customer service calls. It’s a small investment for a much greater return.
4. Training and Staffing
Manufacturing challenges don’t just come from the outside. Struggling to find and retain top talent has long been an issue, and not just for manufacturers. But in this industry specifically, an expanding footprint across the country or across the globe makes it difficult to maintain consistent standards in all locations.
The key is good training. According to IDC, 25 percent of Global 2000 companies will develop digital training programs by 2020, as businesses start to compete in “talent wars.” Whoever’s employees have the best training takes an advantage in the market.
Webinars provide a simple technology solution. During a live presentation, trainers can see and interact with new employees, and the webinar can be saved as a digital file for new hires to view later. Video use is on the rise for both consumer consumption and employee engagement, so having these media files is incredibly valuable.
5. Evolving Technology
Technology is nothing new for manufacturers. Companies constantly try to one-up each other with new engineering feats and more advanced technology that will give them an edge in productivity and finances.
But now that customers expect the same level of service from producers as they receive from retailers, it’s time to put the same level of effort into communication technology. Thankfully, tech providers already have these solutions available, unlike manufacturing equipment that must be newly developed to fit a specific purpose.
There are plenty of options to consider. For customer service, try out an IVR, contact center or proactive notifications. If employee-to-employee interactions are more important to you, webcasting and conferencing solutions may be the answer you need. The more connected your business is, the easier it is to adapt to market and technology changes.
6. Building Loyalty With Retailers and End Users
It’s less expensive to maintain relationships with old customers than to acquire new ones. That’s true whether your customer is a retailer, distributor or an end user. And the best way to maintain loyalty is to provide a personalized experience. In other words, show them you know them and understand their needs.
According to Segment, 44 percent of consumers will likely become repeat buyers after receiving a personalized shopping experience. That may not seem like helpful information for manufacturers focused on mass production instead of retail, but there are a few ways to take advantage of that statistic.
First and foremost, create products that meet the same high-quality standards every time. Next, create a positive buying experience for anyone who uses your product. If for you that means distributors buying in bulk, then keep data on how much they usually order and on their communication preferences. The easier you can make each transaction, the better.
And don’t forget to monitor the media so you can quickly respond to any public relations mishaps. Maintaining a good relationship with the public is critically important for business success.
Of all these manufacturing challenges, globalization may be the most well known. Deloitte predicts rapid growth in Asia Pacific nations, including Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. And for many manufacturers, it will simply make more business sense to open a new location overseas.
That opens the door to many manufacturing challenges by complicating logistics and adapting to new cultural norms and government requirements. Fortunately, you don’t have to miss a step within your business. While your footprint gets larger, technology has made the world much smaller.
Don’t rely on a basic telephone connection to stay in touch. For international operations, a full collaboration suite becomes a necessity. Instant messaging, video conferencing and email provide much more useful services. Plus, these tools can show when someone is available and when they’re away and help you manage meetings across different time zones. Otherwise, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae and lose sight of your company’s big picture strategy.
Let West Manage Your Communication
Communication can solve many of the most common manufacturing challenges. The fact that businesses like West can manage your employee engagement, customer service and public relations solutions is the cherry on top.
To learn more about these seven manufacturing challenges and ways to solve them, download our comprehensive whitepaper by clicking here. And for personalized advice to improve your communication strategy, talk to one of our experts by calling 800.841.9000.
You can’t predict what the future holds. But with the right communication solutions and strategy in place, you’ll be ready to handle any manufacturing challenges that may arise.