In many ways, the manufacturing industry is itself a machine, full of moving parts and highly dependent on precise solutions to keep processes running smoothly. When any one of those processes is interrupted — for example, by supply chain disruptions — customer engagement and other vital elements of profitability can be the first to suffer.
As such, it’s important for manufacturers to have the right tools in their digital transformation arsenal — tools that help manage every last element, right down to spare part handling. Today, we’ll explore how manufacturing portals help get the job done.
The Value of Spare Parts Management
With so many details to consider — including preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance, data capture and analysis, and even after-sales support — manufacturers have their work cut out for them when it comes to digital transformation. However, there’s one consideration that is too often overlooked: spare part handling.
Having spare parts on hand is an absolute necessity, but it’s often structured as a reactive process: When something breaks, workers are tasked with finding a replacement. Such reactivity can lead to wasted time and money, especially if it’s discovered — too late, of course — that the part needs to be special-ordered. This challenge is only exacerbated by existing supply chain disruptions, which lead to extended turnaround times and even potential downtime.
As such, having the right tools for spare parts management is key, which is why this particular element is a worthy inclusion in any digital transformation program for manufacturers. This is just one more way to support, structure and protect the vital relationships between customers, suppliers, and companies — the foundation upon which much manufacturing success is built.
Challenges in Spare Parts Management
It’s one thing to say spare parts management deserves a place in the digital transformation journey, but it’s another thing entirely to make this possible. That’s because spare part handling comes with many inherent challenges, including:
- Timing: Having the right part at the right time is key; however, identifying “the right time” is often difficult. Ordering too soon means there will be extra parts to store and maintain, while ordering too late leads to downtime and productivity losses.
- Amount: How many spare parts should an organization have on hand? Determining the appropriate number depends on many factors, all of which must be visible, accurate, and fully considered.
- Precision: Different machine makes and models need different parts. If the wrong spares are ordered, the entire supply chain could suffer — or, worse, the machine could be damaged trying to use an ill-fitting part.
- Customer service: Getting help to identify the right spare parts, order the correct amount, and schedule delivery is a complicated process, especially when supply chain disruptions and worker shortages are putting extra pressure on the industry.
While employees are working through these challenges, stakeholders throughout the supply chain are being impacted by holdups, downtime, and loss of productivity — including end customers.
For this reason, it’s important for manufacturers to find and deploy solutions that put power in users’ hands, simplifying and enriching the spare part handling and ordering process via solutions like self-service, maintenance reminders, and more — ideally, all in a single platform.
That’s where after-sales spare parts portals come in.
How to Take Control of Spare Part Handling
Many manufacturers rely on customer portals to improve speed and efficiency, provide sophisticated self-service during after-sales support, and maximize uptime across the supply chain. Far from just enabling spare parts management, these flexible, powerful platforms are the basis for much of the digital transformation process — including key objectives like the prioritization of the customer experience.
Here are a few of the most important features of a customer self-service portal for spare part handling:
Every player in the manufacturing industry, right down to the end customer, appreciates expedited processes. Customer portals enable this speed and efficiency in spare parts management by only suggesting necessary and compatible parts, eliminating the need for users to manually enter machine data before every order. Further, catalogs can be pre-filtered to show the most relevant parts based on a user’s search habits and previous interactions with the portal.
Too often, otherwise-efficient customer service or manufacturing partner processes are hindered by the need to reach out to a representative. Instead, manufacturing portals should enable users to complete certain tasks on their own — for example, scheduling service appointments, finding technical documentation, and researching maintenance needs via powerful search capabilities. This not only reduces the cost-to-serve — it also supports a more user-friendly experience overall, allowing customers or partners to engage with the portal in ways that fit their digital preferences.
While self-service is a valuable and necessary element of any digital portal, it shouldn’t be the only option available to customers. Manufacturing is a complex field, and it’s often helpful to have another industry expert available to help handle complex questions, articulate challenges, and navigate unexpected downtime caused by supply chain frustrations or spare parts management struggles. As such, manufacturing portals should also include chats, emails, or other customer service touchpoints so users can have total control over their experience. This also helps foster a secure, trusting relationship between manufacturers and their partners — all by ensuring visibility, clear communication, and consistently reliable support whenever necessary.
Reminders and Automated Suggestions
With so many moving parts to keep track of, both literally and metaphorically, customers can often use a helping hand. When this comes in the form of maintenance reminders or automatic parts recommendations provided by a manufacturing customer portal, users benefit from the convenience of having parts, orders, and service tech appointments readily available within the same platform. This also encourages customers to stay within the portal to complete their orders rather than potentially researching or utilizing competitor offerings.
Although manufacturing is often focused on numbers and data, it doesn’t hurt to have insight into customers’ feelings as well. A manufacturing customer portal should offer numerous ways for users to provide feedback, generating data that will be useful in the creation and deployment of future digital transformation initiatives. In this scenario, all parties win: While manufacturers benefit from this customer data, users themselves feel gratified knowing their preferences and opinions are being utilized to improve their experience.
See What Customer Self-Service Portals Can Do For You
Manufacturing is a machine all its own — and, like any other machine, it needs support from the proper tools. A customer portal can be one of those tools, helping address a significant part of digital transformation — spare part handling — and turn this process into a smooth, efficient system that supports maintenance activities and keeps production on target.
However, while spare part handling is a key element in supply chain management, it isn’t the only thing that can be digitized and optimized with a customer self-service portal. Manufacturers can use these platforms as the basis for further digital transformation, putting customer and employee experience right where it belongs: at the heart of tech adoption and implementation.
If you’re ready to see what a customer portal can do for your manufacturing organization, explore Liferay’s Digital After-Sales Experience software.