How to boost growth in industrial services: Better customer experience

Customer experience is increasingly critical for industrial-services businesses—and the bar is rising. Here’s how to exceed it.

Service businesses have long been an effective way for industrial OEMs to build closer, more enduring relationships with customers. Once generated, these bonds can produce value throughout a product’s life cycle, turning services into a robust revenue stream.

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But creating and maintaining these relationships has never been easy. Now it’s getting harder. The high bar that B2C giants have set for personal, customized customer experience increasingly extends to B2B companies, including industrial OEMs. As a result, to expand services’ potential, OEMs will want to up their customer-experience game.

What will it take? At the most basic level, organiza­tions have adopted a customer-centric vision, prioritized critical interventions, and used agile methodologies to quickly deliver impact to clients. Lately they have begun leveraging new, cutting-edge technologies, such as predictive analytics—which helps flag client satisfaction and risk of churn.

But what really sets the leading customer-experience organizations apart is their reliance on journeys to frame their transformation efforts. By focusing on the outcomes customers hope to achieve and how they interact with the organization to achieve those outcomes, journeys help increase revenue growth.

Industrial OEMs are no different. They can reimagine their customer journeys to improve the experience they are delivering and make themselves easier to do business with. However, improved customer journeys may be quite different for an industrial OEM compared with a B2C digital native. For both companies, better customer journeys may incorporate digital, which can make transactions simpler and more enjoyable for customers while reducing the cost of servicing an account for the company. But the complexity of an industrial company’s sales process makes generating value from digital more important—and more difficult.

To use customer journeys to boost their services business, OEMs must take particular care in identifying what customers want and map those needs to the customer journeys woven into their services business. From there, they can pick the improvements that would yield the highest return to upgrade first. Applying these insights judiciously can boost services revenue by 10 percent or more—an amount that can translate to hundreds of millions in revenue for larger OEMs.

Closing the gaps in OEMs’ customer experience

To become more service-centric and improve the customer experience, OEMs have to do a better job of understanding what customers want and need. For many, it’s an approach that’s dramatically different from how they have operated until now.

To improve the customer experience, OEMs have to do a better job of understanding what customers want and need. For many, it’s an approach that’s dramatically different from how they have operated until now.

That’s apparent from the gap that exists between what customers say they want and what OEMs offer. Take e-commerce: our research shows that 60 percent of B2B customers find buying products online more convenient than going through traditional channels, and 62 percent prefer to reorder online. But only 13 percent of industrial OEMs offer digital solutions of any kind, and only 10 percent offer online self-service tools for placing reorders (Exhibit 1). At one aviation manufacturer, not only were parts sales unavailable on a self-service basis, but there was also no centralized system for tracking them. When a customer ordered a replacement part, the company’s service technician had to consult a plane’s blueprint to identify the item, a practice that led to mistakes.

Industrial-services organizations are struggling to keep up with rising customer expectations.
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As the data make clear, few OEMs incorporate digital into their services business. In fact, of the industry sectors included in McKinsey’s latest annual Digital Quotient survey, the digital offerings from industrial companies were the least mature (Exhibit 2). Accordingly, B2B companies that do incor­porate digital into operations have the opportunity to gain an edge in the market by provid­ing a better customer experience.

Industrial companies rate themselves the least digitally capable among surveyed industries.
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If OEMs are improving the customer experience, then services are a good place to start since, in doing so, a company has a chance to establish an ongoing relationship with a customer.

Customer journeys for industrial services

Improving customer journeys is one way to improve customer experience. Previous research has shown that companies with better customer journeys tend to win in the market. Better performance has a strong correlation with faster revenue growth. In measurements of customer satisfaction with the most important customer journeys, for example, a one-point improvement on a ten-point scale corresponds to a minimum 3 percent increase in revenue growth.

Better customer journeys are also correlated with better overall outcomes. In most industries, the three customer journeys that customers care about most account for more than 25 percent of total customer satisfaction. Delivering a distinctive customer journey makes it more likely that customers will buy again, spend more, add products or services, and increase their loyalty to the company.

Most industrial OEMs share eight common customer journeys. Improving any of them can increase sales, lower selling costs, or reduce churn. For a typical OEM, customer journeys start with identifying the type of service that’s needed, and from there move to buying and using the service, and ultimately upgrading or renewing a contract or discontinuing the service (Exhibit 3).

Industrial OEMs can focus improvements on eight key customer journeys.
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Customer journeys for industrial OEMs can be complicated by several factors:

  • Many stakeholders. Journeys may need to account for complex value chains that might involve multiple representatives at a single customer, including users, buyers, service managers, and C-level executives.
  • Relationship management. Selling technical services may depend on one-on-one relationships, such as those that exist between a customer and a knowledgeable services rep. That kind of relationship makes customer journeys harder to automate, standardize, and track. It also creates a risk that the customer’s relation is with the sales rep and not the business, which could go away if the rep leaves the company.
  • Variable customer needs. Customers for any given industrial OEM can have exceedingly different needs and expectations based on their size, product use, and location. Some may want personalized, one-on-one support and services, while others appreciate no-fuss digital interactions. OEMs have to take such preferences into account when designing customer experiences and journeys for different customer types.
  • Low data availability. An OEM may have little or no customer data on its installed base of equip­ment. Companies that have been in business for a while may not have records of older assets. That could prevent them from determining which services customers may want or need—information that’s vital to building effective customer journeys.
  • Siloed organizations. Services departments don’t offer a uniform customer experience, because they often operate in silos. A company may sell parts through one department and maintenance through another, and maintain separate customer records for each. Failing to provide a seamless experience isn’t just frustrating for customers; it prevents depart­ments from getting a full picture of their customer relationship, one they could use to collaborate on new products.
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Complexities aside, a handful of customer journeys are emerging as starting points for OEMs’ transformation efforts. Common starting points include upgrading to e-commerce options for the “I reorder” journey and creating better self-service options for the “I use” and “I maintain” journeys. These journeys are the easiest to fix, or are most similar to now-common B2C transactions, such as making and tracking purchases online.

The aviation company that had problems tracking parts is among the OEMs that have begun making upgrades. The company created a website and app for customers to buy spare parts, and expects the updated customer buying journey to lead to a 10 percent increase in revenue for its parts business (see sidebar, “An aviation company’s parts business takes flight”).

Improving the customer journey

Most OEMs can’t afford to redesign all of their customer journeys from scratch. Instead, they can prioritize where to begin based on the return they expect to get from upgrading the process. To get started, we recommend that OEMs consider the following key points.

Most OEMs can’t afford to redesign all of their customer journeys from scratch. Instead, they can prioritize where to begin based on the return they expect to get from upgrading the process.

Know key customers. Companies need to know who the key decision makers are for specific customer journeys and what each one values in order to deliver on that value. OEMs can gain insights into clients’ needs by conducting interviews and surveys, or by asking sales or service representatives who regularly interact with the client. Once OEMs know which people to craft customer journeys for, they can determine how to craft the journey and how to measure whether or not it’s effective.

Understand how customers want to interact—and why. How a customer prefers to communicate with an OEM may depend on the industry, type of service, or specific customer journey. Some may want to be in touch all the time, especially if they have equipment that a vendor’s field-service team regularly maintains. Other customers may want to commu­nicate only when they make a purchase. Whatever the case, a company can use its existing customer interactions to pinpoint trouble spots and decide which communication channels to use to improve them.

Provide a mix of analog and digital. Not all improve­ments have to be digital. Digital services can strike a balance between what the customer needs and what the company can afford to provide. A steel company, for example, might assign account executives to service its largest customers but direct smaller ones to order parts online.

Identify and fix customer pain points. With data on customers, the journeys that customers use, and how they prefer to interact, an OEM can identify pain points and prioritize which would be the most beneficial to address first. Making improvements doesn’t have to be complicated—and in some cases, the most valuable changes may be ones that customers might not have realized they wanted. It could be as simple as redoing a website’s layout so information on available services or parts is easier to find. Other upgrades could include creating a mobile app, or for an OEM that doesn’t already have one, launching an e-commerce channel.

One industrial OEM identified a poor sales experience as the reason for stagnating revenue. The company wasn’t sure which part of the sales journey to fix to yield the biggest payoff. To find out, the company established baselines for key metrics including sales per product, sales per customer, and total sales, and ranked the relative importance of each. To determine the value that it could derive from specific improvements, the company analyzed the key metrics, customer-satisfaction survey results, and other data. It also interviewed customers to understand their preferred sales process and the process improvements that could change their buying behaviors.

Based on the findings, the company launched multiple initiatives to improve the sales journey. It added a customer insights function to measure the initiatives’ effectiveness and determine when additional improvements would be needed. Work is ongoing, but the company has identified $1 billion in potential revenue uplift from improving the customer experience.

Monitor progress and update as needed. As initiatives roll out, OEMs can keep a pulse on the impact that they’re generating. Among data points to track: if initiatives are working as intended, what customers are saying about revamped customer journeys; and if journeys are working well, whether it’s time to move on to the next fix. By collecting feedback, OEMs can also determine if additional refinements are needed.


Customer expectations are changing for companies of all kinds. They want a superior experience, with the same level of personalized service, convenience, and digital tools they have become accustomed to having in their personal lives. Industrial OEMs have to meet these rising expec­tations to stay relevant and win the market. One option for doing that is to improve customer journeys for the services side of their business, which is ripe for change. They can start by updating the parts of the services customer journey that today are the biggest pain points. Tackle them one by one, collect data on the results, and use the feedback to continue to improve. If they don’t act, OEMs may see customers take their business elsewhere.

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