How to stay close to customers in the age of social distancing

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Among the many business challenges of 2020, one of the biggest is maintaining customer relationships during a pandemic. How do you stay close to customers when business as we’ve known it doesn’t exist anymore?

Enterprises businesses find distinct value in meeting clients in person, visiting their operations, and rolling up their sleeves to solve any issues that arise. None of that is possible – or responsible – in the age of COVID-19 and social distancing.

Surprisingly, though, at BITZER, we’ve been able to improve our customer interactions despite the social distancing mandates.

Thanks to our digital transformation initiative and our focus on delivering an optimal customer experience, we’ve been able to strengthen our customer relationships while providing enhanced value-added services.

How to stay close to customers: Setting the foundation

BITZER leads the market in air conditioning and refrigeration products. As one of the world’s largest independent manufacturers in this sector, we bring modern cooling technologies to various industries – helping to air-condition buildings, reliably cool industrial processes, and provide the technology that ensures fresh foods.

As we embrace digitalization of the business, we’ve begun transforming into a provider of refrigeration as a service.

Our primary customers are dealers, original equipment manufacturers, and small installation teams that use our products to build refrigeration units that they sell to end users. The secret to our success is our network – both our internal personnel and our partners – that provides a full scope of services to meet any customer need.

Digitalization for customer-centric growth

Over the years, our corporate growth has aligned with the increasing sophistication of our customer experience approach. When Senator h. c. Peter Schaufler, our late owner and CEO, took over the company in 1979, we started to grow quickly.

By 2013, we had grown so much that it had become difficult to coordinate our efforts across the organization, and we had no overall view of our customers. So we deployed customer relationship management software from SAP.

This solution provided new insights, but after just two years, we knew we needed to do more, so we began our digital transformation initiative.

The goal was to create an infrastructure that would support our future growth by transforming us from a compressor manufacturer to a provider of compressor-enabled services. Working with colleagues from our partner SAP, we created the first online compressor service in 2016.

Over time, we’ve enhanced our customer experience by building on long-term relationships. Advanced customer experience offerings such as the SAP Sales Cloud and other cloud solutions from SAP help us to better understand our customers’ needs and what they need to succeed in their markets.

Now our sales and support personnel have all the information they need to communicate with customers – meeting their needs instead of simply selling solutions.

When we’re discussing new products, for example, we can share early information with selected customers, so they are always one step ahead. Customers see us as a valuable partner and they’re proud that we’re working together.

Staying close to customers with networked digital services 

Peter Schaufler always preferred to look toward the future. He was fond of saying, “think globally and act locally.” That’s what we’re trying to do now with our digitalized services and our customer experience initiatives.

With support from our board, we continue to expand our digitalization efforts. We created the BITZER Digital Network (BDN), which provides customers like large supermarket chains with digital services for refrigeration and air conditioning technology.

This online, cloud-based platform helps customers master the challenges of digitalization by offering:

  1. Comprehensive compressor information
  2. Analyses based on real-time data
  3. Our decades of refrigeration know-how

BDN is beginning to offer services such as online equipment monitoring, compressor operation reports, and instant troubleshooting assistance for errors. One of our largest customers recently saw a demonstration of these capabilities and said it was the most interesting meeting he’d had in years.

We’re also working on a new Internet of Things (IoT) approach that collects data from our customers’ compressors, analyzes it in real time, and provides instant feedback on equipment health. For example, the technology can warn customers that a compressor needs to be repaired. It can also project a timeframe for likely failure if repairs are not executed.

Currently, we have 200 customers testing IoT capabilities – indicating customers’ need for both more practical data analysis and digitalized compressor services.

Doing more for customers with less effort

As the world moves forward and the pandemic recedes into history, the focus on the customer experience will continue to grow. By digitalizing services, companies will be able to do more for customers with less effort.

It’s surprising how the right tools let our service personnel work more efficiently and deliver more services than ever before. SAP solutions enabled us to break down information and departmental silos, operate as a single company focusing on customer outcomes, and continue to serve our customers while growing our business.

We’ll continue expanding our digitalized services to create better customer experiences. Part of that includes maintaining our relationship with customers, even after their equipment is up and running.

It’s important that we let our customers know that we are always there for them, not just when we are selling products. With this ongoing high level of support, we can move beyond a traditional customer and supplier relationship – to one that lays the foundation for a consistently excellent customer experience.

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Michael Eichberger

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