An "A to Z" Approach to Customer Service in Agriculture

by Dirk Backhaus
Dec 22, 2021 10:45 AM ET
Blog

In the time it will take you to read this sentence, nearly 100 packages will have left an Amazon warehouse.

To say that "all in one" digital retailers such as Amazon and Alibaba have reshaped how we shop – and the overall look and operations of the retail landscape – would be a severe understatement. In fact, some of you already may have had a visit from your delivery driver today!

What's arguably even more fascinating is how the shift to eCommerce has transformed how we behave. Customers now have higher standards and expect the same frictionless and convenient fulfillment model in every facet of life. As a result, both B2B and B2C organizations are striving to meet these expectations by chasing an ideal intersection of technology, engagement, fulfillment, selection, competitive pricing and personal touch.

That customer base includes growers. It's easy to overlook the fact that growers are just like you and me – consumers who purchase goods and services online and expect quality, accuracy and a commitment to service in return. And contrary to long-held misconceptions, today's growers are increasingly tech-savvy and welcome digital innovations that make their lives easier in and beyond the field.

It's not surprising then that both an appetite for technological innovation and "The Amazon/Alibaba Effect" are carrying over more heavily into agriculture. Within our Product Supply function, we're seeing this evolution every day. Our team of more than 16,000 global employees is responsible for implementing digital tools that advance the customer experience. While filling orders is still at the core of our job, we're also in the business of experiential engagement and creating a first-class, customer-centric experience.

With the annual Customer Service Week celebration underway, it felt like an ideal opportunity to reflect on how we can further leverage digital innovation to better serve growers. While we've made great strides so far, we must remain agile and attentive to meet our customers where they are. Above all else, this means finding new ways to modernize and simplify fundamental processes.

Perhaps the most significant step we've taken to bring our customers into a new and improved digital age is the release of our One Digital Customer Experience (OneDCE) platform – a personalized eCommerce portal designed to be the “one stop shop” for our growers and dealers when it comes to placing and managing orders, as well as payments and financial services that Bayer offers to them. And all of this is done thinking on making simpler the life of our growers and dealers. While we may not be at the Amazon or Alibaba level just yet, we've built the foundation for a more hyper-personalized approach to doing business.

Most notably, OneDCE was designed by growers for growers, much as the leading eCommerce channels were designed by consumers for consumers. As the technology began to take shape, our Product Supply team leveraging the concept of Human Centered Design, held focus groups and individual conversations to understand the sources of our customers' greatest pain points. We wanted to make sure new features delivered benefit and value to our customers and didn’t add complexity or frustration to growers' already complex daily routines. This customer-centric design process delivered a more than 50 percent increase in online adoption following its launch and has introduced new enhancements in recent years that reflect ongoing grower discussions.

Another reason for the rise of eCommerce is its accessibility. Whereas physical retailers have set hours of operation and a limited geographical service range, online shoppers can order anything at any time and have it shipped anywhere. We designed OneDCE with similar convenience in mind. Our customers now have 24/7 access to relevant business and transaction data, and no longer have to wait for a customer service center to open to track delivery and order status. Additionally, growers can navigate the financial and accounting sides of their business in a single location and without paper or manual record keeping, which previously led to lost information and duplicative "tracking" conversations. Our digital credit application and review process has already reduced a review and decision process that previously could take as long as three weeks to as fast as a single day.

We also admire and reflect the commitment of Amazon, Alibaba and the like to remain one step ahead of their customers. Through order history tracking, streaming services and even its Alexa digital assistant, Amazon takes personalization to the next level and directs its customers to products that may be of interest given their preferences. OneDCE similarly leverages AI and predictive modeling to anticipate, rather than guess, and deliver upon growers' needs. With broader, centralized visibility into our customers' behaviors, we can proactively inquire about reorders and supplemental product needs, and guide growers to other tools and services they may need to thrive in their fields. By removing a few items from their busy to-do lists, we can offer an extra element of care and support.

I'm often reminded of the famous quote from Maya Angelou which says that while people may forget what you say and do, they will never forget how you made them feel. While technology can drive convenience and efficiency, it can't fully replace the element of human connection and empathy that comes with exceptional service.

For Bayer, and the Product Supply team in particular, we see the "Amazon-ation" of the world as an opportunity to rethink how we operate. We welcome the challenge of further bringing technology and personalization together to generate new possibilities for agriculture and everyone it serves…and essentially make every week Customer Service Week!