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How to Build a Better Customer-Facing B2B System

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Manufacturer MBX Systems applied the customer engagement concepts used by retailers to improve its customer-engagement system.

Five years ago, specialty technology manufacturer MBX Systems recognized the need to equip its B2B customers with Amazon-like point-and-click access to order, shipping, and related information. MBX – like most B2B tech companies – lacked these capabilities. That meant customers had to spend hours scouring multiple portals, spreadsheets, documents, and ERP systems to get status updates as well as critical engineering documentation.

MBX revamped its customer portal to correct these inefficiencies. The company built a solution that used Amazon’s customer portal as a model. MBX wanted to go far beyond basic order and shipping status and include a centralized source of the bill of materials, engineering change requests, work in progress, global compliance information, inventory management, and more. The result – MBX Hatch – has raised the transparency bar for B2B companies while driving business for MBX itself.

We caught up with Justin Formella, chief strategy officer at MBX Systems, to find out how and why MBX Systems built its customer engagement system.

Design News: What were the reasons behind the MBX Hatch system, and how does it help your customers?

Justin Formella: We looked at what retailers like Amazon were doing to help their customers and decided we could build something similar. So, we created MBX Hatch. The system provides a comprehensive toolset to facilitate customer planning, forecasting, reporting, and timely fulfillment of highly complex hardware systems. We found that our customer-facing system was the same as it’s been for the last 20 years.

We had already applied tools to ERP and CRM to improve our system, but we hadn’t changed the tools for our customers. When we did, the system we developed to automate customer engagement turned out to be a differentiator for our customers. We let them have insights into their work with us, which improved trust. We added transparency. Now, they can see their orders every step of the way. It changes the conversation from “trust me” to ”verify me.”

The system also changed our customer acquisition velocity.  Over the past five years, we have doubled revenue and cut down our costs by giving our customers self-service access to their orders. We’re not forcing that on our customers. They prefer self-service.

DN: You’ve added supply chain visibility and other real-time information access. How did your customers respond?

Justin Formella: Customers saw this as an opportunity. They liked the tools that helped them orchestrate the process and get real-time visibility. They liked the details of the changes to the product. When there are supply constraints, they can see into the supply issues and they can make changes accordingly.

We have Hatch, but we also have Hatch connect, Which lets our customers share the information with their customers by putting their logo on it. They don’t have to play middle-man. They’re able to share that information in real-time. The data includes the active jobs. The entire process can be automated. That drives considerable waste out of the process.

DN: Can your customers expand the system’s capabilities to manage their internal systems?

Justin Formella: Yes, MBX Hatch offers logistics for our products and lets customers orchestrate the logistics into one single source of truth. They’re using this to manage all of their transactions, even for products we’re not building.

This was years in the making. We created it with our team of software developers. We also worked to be able to share data securely. Creating security within the walls of your castle is easy, but sharing with customers requires new capabilities to make sure it’s secure.

DN: Have you added outside services to Hatch to bolster its capabilities?

Justin Formella: We use a combination of Amazon S3 and some Google. The architecture can get involved. We don’t have to own all of that. The biggest challenge is when we work with companies that have legacy ERP. We have to figure out how to break out of the monolithic staff and its ERP vendor. The traditional ERP packages work against you. They make achieving data sharing very difficult. It’s not in the interest of the ERP vendors to make it easy. They haven’t cracked the nut on how to open up their information and share it without decoding the foreign language of the data structure.

DN: When you improve your customer’s efficiencies, does it also improve your efficiencies?

Justin Formella: Yes. We work to improve the system for our customers, and then again for ourselves. Doing it for both the customer and ourselves makes it easier. When you share it with the customer, sharing with yourself is an afterthought.

Right now we’re focused on taking the things we build and offering them to our customers. It’s a different business model. It’s a differentiator for us, so we don’t offer it beyond our customer base any more than Amazon would sell its system. We continue to expand Hatch's capabilities and handle all software development in-house, utilizing a dedicated software team.

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