The aftermarket customer experience (CX) has been redefined by platforms such as Amazon Marketplace and eBay Motors. The convenience and ease provided by these e-commerce platforms have become the golden standard of CX excellence in the industry, forcing many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and the independent aftermarket (IAM) to consider the importance of a digital sales strategy for their spare parts business.

Author Radiana Pit | Copperberg

Photo: Freepik

Of course, the COVID-19 outbreak also had a major impact, expediting the business case for aftermarket e-commerce. B2B consumer habits have changed as buyers started to predominantly research and purchase their items online. Forward-thinking OEMs and spare parts providers understood that they needed to invest in a digital sales strategy for their aftermarket business in order to meet the evolving demands of their customers and deliver superior online shopping experiences. 

Beyond the impact on B2B buying behavior, the pandemic also disrupted the global distribution of spare parts. International networks and supply chains were unprepared for the large-scale disruption, which resulted in availability issues and unpredicted shortages. For many distributors and OEMs, it became apparent that more resilient business models were necessary in order to secure the future of their aftermarket activity.

That created a conundrum for industry players: how could they deploy an e-commerce solution when their digital maturity is still a work in progress? Could their e-commerce strategy and distribution network coexist and harmonize in today’s digital-first ecosystem? Aversion to change from distributors can make alignment difficult. But the sooner everyone understands that e-commerce has become the number one buying method in the B2B world, the easier it gets to elevate the customer experience.

A prime example of successfully executing an e-commerce strategy alongside a distribution network comes from Dover Fueling Solutions. The company’s Director of CX, Joakim de la Chapelle, shared their journey of successful e-commerce deployment via a hybrid approach during the Spare Parts Business Platform 2022 virtual event hosted by Copperberg last month. Below, we’ve compiled indispensable insights from DFS’s keynote session, to help aftermarket organizations better understand the process of setting up a profitable e-commerce strategy that works in tandem with their distribution network.

The case for e-commerce in aftermarket services

Dover Fueling Solutions (DFS) is part of the B2B clean energy and fueling segment and a leading provider of advanced customer-focused technologies, services, and solutions in the fuel and convenience retail industry. Drawing from 130 years of legendary service in the retail market, 10+ manufacturing facilities, and a combination of high-performing brands each possessing unique skills and capabilities, DFS offers a compelling portfolio of advanced solutions for fleet management, site efficiency, electronic pricing and payment, customer experience, and connectivity to customers around the globe.

The company’s customer base targeted for e-commerce engagement and adoption primarily consists of distributors of all sizes, private owners and customers, direct sales organizations, and public or non-DFS customers. A key consideration as the company developed its e-commerce strategy was to ensure that all customers, both DFS and non-DFS, had access to its Genuine Parts service. 

Although e-commerce was not a new initiative for DFS, with the company having experimented over the years as well, the strategy executed in the past two years has proven to be the most profitable and successful. One of the key lessons DFS learned from previous experiments is that initial e-commerce projects rarely succeed without an exhaustive discovery phase. Companies often rush the process, overlooking important considerations and missing the mark. 

This time around, DFS was keen on finding the right e-commerce strategy that benefitted both customers and distributors, ensuring that everyone can access the parts they need and that those genuine parts are delivered accordingly. As such, DFS launched an e-commerce tool that is specifically designed to streamline the parts-ordering process, enabling users to search for thousands of authentic parts, view quality photos, check available stock, get estimated lead times, and more.  

Elevating the customer experience

The creation and implementation of DFS’s online parts viewing and ordering tool was shaped by the type of customer experience the company wanted to provide. This customer-centric principle resonates across industries and is specifically relevant for aftermarket organizations in today’s digital-first world. The company’s strategy to deliver customer excellence is inspiring, if not applicable, for many aftermarket service providers. So, what are the CX considerations DFS made when embarking on its e-commerce deployment journey?

  • Creating a unique organizational and work culture by bringing brands together under one roof;
  • Understanding that e-commerce is a process, so it should have global and scalable functionality;
  • Emphasizing the importance of regional deployment and ownership for global solutions;
  • Increasing the speed of launching a solution and the quote-to-order (Q2O) process;
  • Simplifying the complex process of searching and finding genuine parts easily;
  • Extending reach, ensuring that every company around the world can find the genuine parts they seek;
  • Boost engagement by creating more than an ordering tool that could also be used by technicians in the process of replacing parts.

Beyond these key considerations, DFS also devised a plan for every customer as part of the pre-commerce implementation process. Before deployment, it’s important to consolidate a good understanding and knowledge of each customer and their needs. Based on this, companies can build onboarding and engagement processes on specific customer requirements, thus addressing their exact needs and ensuring that engaging in e-commerce doesn’t cause them more harm than good. 

Many customers are still using legacy solutions and traditional models which stifle digital maturity, so looking at current customer categories and ordering sources to better understand where customers are situated on the digital spectrum is an essential first step. But it’s also important to remember that customers are evolving as well—from their digital maturity level to their buying behavior, they are constantly changing. So understanding the buyer personas of today and tomorrow means looking beyond the buyer personas within the distribution channel and expanding the scope of the solution to ensure everyone and anyone can find the parts they seek.

Another aspect of ensuring that everyone has access to the parts they need is defining the parts that will be made available and getting a grip on data management by being transparent and cleaning up the data in the company’s ERP or PIM system, which is necessary for enriching the user experience. 

Engagement, adoption, and tracking

Designing onboarding and engagement processes based on the real needs of consumers consolidates customer relationships and builds momentum. Keeping that momentum by using all means of communication and digital marketing is vital. Furthermore, helping customers to enter the e-commerce world and overcome their aversion to change has a fundamental impact on the way they perceive the value derived from the relationship with the company. E-commerce undoubtedly adds value to the supplier-customer relationship, making leeway for increased customer and stakeholder satisfaction.

But before the onboarding process begins, the right tools for every phase of e-commerce deployment, from development to adoption and tracking, must be in place to avoid incidents further down the road. And in case incidents do happen, having a clear process to follow up on detractors and reported issues is essential. 

Regarding tracking especially, companies should consider how they will quantify both external and internal success. For example, tracking external success involves measuring against plans on the customer level and following up on satisfaction surveys while tracking internal success involves establishing clear targets and key performance indicators (KPIs), and developing a data-driven understanding of the customer base. 

Tracking external success enables suppliers to enhance their solutions, scale their business, and increase customer satisfaction. But tracking internal success is just as important since stakeholders are always invested in the performance of a strategy or the company overall. Internal success tracking can inform the decision-making process within the company and form a more cohesive organizational culture. 

Final considerations

E-commerce is a journey that never ends. It constantly evolves as the digital environment continues to expand, so companies considering deployment should prepare for the long haul. One of the most important takeaways from Joakim de la Chapelle’s CX wisdom is that the process shouldn’t be rushed, but allowed to build up momentum. 

By rolling out an e-commerce strategy in phases based on different customer requirements that are organized in segments contingent on criteria such as legacy, industry, and more, it’s easier to keep everyone on board. Otherwise, attempting to onboard customers that are not ready for e-commerce can result in attrition and loss of profit.

It is better to implement monthly project tracking, create separate and specific objectives for each customer segment, and plan the deployment carefully, understanding which customers are included in each phase and why. 

After deployment, keeping a keen eye on the impact within the organization can unlock opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration and a more cohesive workflow. Likewise, tracking and analyzing customer behavior can unlock opportunities for upselling and business growth, so keep customers close and use their feedback to create more value.

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