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Megan Wallin Kerth

Innovation

Technology Takes a Front Seat for Manufacturers Navigating the Pandemic

One important lesson learned was maintaining quality customer service in the face of unpredictability

Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2022 - 13:01

In the wake of manufacturing and chip shortages, some may think that Covid-19 slowed down production on the whole as supply chain issues and remote work presented significant obstacles for manufacturers. However, there were both struggles and some unexpected benefits that arose as professionals temporarily closed up shop or worked from home.

Unfortunately, professionals in service fields and manufacturing were at the mercy of mandates. Some in the car repair field felt the initial burden as their customers not only were driving less, resulting in fewer repair jobs, but were also expecting to schedule more appointments and estimates via phone or official business website queries. For many smaller shops, most of their business consisted of walk-ins who waited in the lobby to speak to a professional. With front-desk workers often in limited supply and technicians unaccustomed to fielding service calls from mobile devices, change came quickly and without significant training or preparation. 

However, this forced many in manufacturing and repair industries to revise and update their websites, not only increasing customer traffic but allowing for easier access to appointments and service calls. They also had to update many of their policies and procedures to allow for some employees to work from home if their health or other circumstances required. Lastly, the pandemic proved that technological advancements in equipment are necessary to serve a wide customer base.

What were the most common issues cited by manufacturing companies? According to Advanced Tech, the pandemic has led to both an increase and decrease in demand for certain products and services. Medical equipment, such as ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as packaged goods for customers under quarantine, were in high demand. Meanwhile, the travel industry was hit hard. Advanced tech reported that more than half of the manufacturing sector anticipated reduced volumes and customers as well as other changes. Delivery delays, supply chain issues, cost spikes, and uncertain production timelines also impacted manufacturers. 

In contrast to expectations, many companies saw a significant boost right after the first lockdown lifted, as customers rushed out to take care of delayed projects while using more efficient and modern methods to access services. The automotive industry, for example, saw one of the biggest initial dips in profitability during the lockdown and stay-at-home orders but later recovered. 

Although vehicle purchases dropped 15 percent, the gap in direct profit to repair shops was somewhat filled within the industry overall by adamant do-it-yourself campaigners, who continued ordering many of the parts and tools necessary to build and repair vehicles. When the lockdowns came to an end, customers returned in such high numbers that many shops found it difficult to staff their business adequately for the amount of service orders coming in daily.

Ultimately, the most important lessons learned were within the realm of flexibility, accessibility, customer retention, updated and modern technological advancement, and maintaining quality customer service in the face of unpredictability. Although many shops failed for lack of resources, including the necessary funding to keep staff on board until orders picked up and supplies returned to normal, it turns out that customer service really is largely the ability to communicate part order delays and other uncertainties with ease. That said, communication skills cost very little once the proper technology and training are incorporated and properly applied.

However, for smaller companies, some of the large overhauls usually required to foster such communication come at too high a cost. In these cases, payments for website designers and tech developers, asn well as elaborate training on newer equipment, may not be realistic. In these cases, having a list of free or inexpensive products to keep a business up and running is not only helpful but also necessary. Free website builders, communication methods, and training applications are readily available, and many businesses can enjoy discounts on slightly upgraded versions of these if they inquire further. 

As for industries still struggling with decreases in demand for their services, entire culture shifts may be required. Even this will likely require more use of remote work to save on the resources used at an office facility, and it may take some industrial creativity to coax customers back to travel agencies. In these cases, having online booking services and available customer service reps is vital. Employees are also dependent on strong planning and updated mobile accessibility.

Projections remain uncertain, but so far most manufacturers and field service professionals are learning how to work with supply chain delays, time constraints, various work orders, and increased customer demand for remote services and scheduling.

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About The Author

Megan Wallin Kerth’s picture

Megan Wallin Kerth

Megan Wallin Kerth is a freelance editor and writer based in Oregon.