When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the manufacturing sector, it upended an industry whose business model revolves entirely around accurately forecasting and planning for demand. Within the first month of the pandemic, a key economic indicator for manufacturers—the U.S. manufacturing purchasing manager’s index—dropped to 41.5, its lowest level since the Great Recession. As supply chains ground to a standstill, once-strong relationships with suppliers suddenly became unpredictable and tenuous. As jobs across the value chain were decimated or converted to work-from-home, manufacturers suddenly were forced to fundamentally rethink and alter their own operations. And as customers stopped interacting with businesses in consistent, predictable ways, manufacturers suddenly found themselves needing to pivot and identify radically different approaches for engaging their customers.
This era of disruption and adversity for the manufacturing sector was the focus of a keynote address during the Salesforce Industries Summit, a virtual event held in June 2021. Held 14 months after the start of the pandemic, the “Accelerate Digitization to Unlock Your Value Chain” keynote address chronicled the unprecedented uncertainty—and also the unprecedented opportunity—that manufacturers were confronted with during the early days of the pandemic. Two representatives from the manufacturing sector shared stories about how they used the destabilizing forces wrought by the pandemic to accelerate digital transformations within their organizations. Let’s explore these stories and the key lessons learned.
Equipment manufacturer transforms approach to fostering customer relationships
Yanmar, a global industrial equipment manufacturer with $7 billion in annual sales, saw its business model completely upended by the pandemic. As a dominant player in this sector of the marketplace, Yanmar’s strong market position—which had historically been a blessing—suddenly became a curse. A core Yanmar product—tractors—started routinely going out of stock, and Yanmar felt powerless to address the supply shortages. To paraphrase Forrest Gump’s famous line, Yanmar’s future essentially became like a box of chocolates—the company never knew what it was going to get. For the first time in its history, the company was facing demand that it couldn’t predict—much less meet. These challenges were compounded by poor name recognition among customers, with most Yanmar products purchased through dealers and most Yanmar customers not even familiar with the brand.
With the company already in the middle of a Salesforce-powered digital transformation at the time of the pandemic, Yanmar leaned even more heavily on Salesforce’s powerful features and capabilities. The platform became a weapon of sorts for the company, helping Yanmar to fundamentally rethink how it would build and maintain relationships with its customers, many of whom were dramatically impacted by the pandemic. Meanwhile, because Yanmar’s customer profile is very defined, Yanmar knew that it could not simply replace old customers with new customers through traditional marketing strategies. Salesforce became essential in providing insights about who Yanmar customers are and how the company could better control and improve the customer experience, from pre-purchase engagement to post-acquisition support.
Ultimately, Yanmar used Salesforce to respond much more quickly to customers and learn how to deliver best-in-class customer experiences. Yanmar immediately saw a strong return on these investments, with Salesforce empowering Yanmar to reach its customer base more effectively via highly targeted interactions, including test-driving new technologies that helped build on the customer experience.
The financial arm of a car manufacturer reimagines the customer experience
Toyota Financial Services, the U.S. financial services arm of global car manufacturer Toyota with $115 billion in managed assets and 3,000 employees, was facing significant challenges on two fronts at the start of the pandemic. First, car buyers and lessees needed significantly more support, with hundreds of calls on a normal day suddenly turning into thousands. Second, the dealers who are so critical to funneling business to Toyota Financial Services were themselves facing a potentially catastrophic financial blow as leasing and buying demand suddenly evaporated—and their own job security was suddenly on the line. Despite these challenges, Toyota Financial Services never lost sight of its commitment to cultivating tight, intimate relationships with its customers—both its internal-facing Toyota dealer community and its buyers and lessees. In fact, the pandemic amplified precisely the business need for a strong customer experience: During such a tumultuous time, customers desperately depended on Toyota Financial Services to provide financial relief, while dealers found themselves seeking out support to financially weather the storm.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Toyota Financial Services already had invested heavily in Salesforce. As early as 2014, the company’s agents were using Salesforce as a one-stop shop for enhancing the quality and speed of the customer experience. The pandemic presented new opportunities for Toyota Financial Services to continue investing in its customer experience strategy. To protect Toyota dealer jobs, Toyota Financial Services used Salesforce to roll out the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal relief program intended to protect employees from furloughs and layoffs. Using Salesforce, the company was able to get dealers PPP relief in just two days—much faster than most financial institutions.
Meanwhile, to support dealers in maintaining their own relationships with customers during the pandemic, Toyota Financial Services focused on developing digital journeys in the Salesforce Marketing Cloud to shed light on why and when customers interact with their local dealers. Using these insights, the company developed multi-tenant digital transformation apps with reusable components that can be scaled for future applications. The company also rolled out an omnichannel contact option for customers—named “On my channel” by the CIO—that gives customers flexibility in how they interact with their Toyota dealer. Finally, the company worked to reposition its own Toyota Financial Services agents as concierge service providers—where, instead of reducing the time they spend helping customers, agents deliberately were expected to increase their average handle times for specialty services.
No one could have predicted the severe disruptions brought on by the pandemic, but the manufacturers that were committed to digital transformation were able to use a time of adversity as an opportunity to accelerate the reimagining of their customer experiences. Today, the lessons they learned remain widely applicable to other manufacturers at all stages of their digital transformation journeys.
If these success stories have inspired you to reimagine your customer experience using your own Salesforce instance, please reach out to the digital transformation specialists at Simplus. We’ll show you how to conceptualize, design, and build optimized customer experiences for a post-pandemic era.