Utilizing new marketing trends like virtual reality and creating digital tools are two ways to innovate in the steel industry.
by Steven Nghe, Digital Product Innovation Manager, Kloeckner Metals Corporation
Creating a Unique Experience
When Kloeckner Metals Company opened our new 105,000-square-foot plant near Chicago, we wanted a way to provide customers a unique experience that went beyond the normal direct mail campaigns. We looked at how other industries were creating bold ideas to get their messages across, and thought integrating virtual reality (VR) would be an innovative way to tell the story. Other industries have added VR into their marketing, but for us in the steel business, it definitely is not business as usual.
We created a direct mail campaign that includes VR glasses and a 360 degree virtual tour of the new plant. Our team created a branded shipping box that contains instructions on how to watch our very first virtual reality video. The VR glasses will tell the story visually and allow participants to view its innovative capabilities as if they were in the room.
Part of it is just the “cool” factor, but it also is a way to utilize new marketing trends in our industry. We wanted to try something different with the grand opening of our Chicago-area plant that matched our commitment to digital innovation throughout the company. The wider theme in all of this is creating a unique experience for the customer.
The focus on customer experience is something that the business to business world sometimes overlooks. By drawing on some of the tactics utilized in the business to consumer world, you can make yourself really stand out. Personalization is important. You need to show that you are there to learn what items they need, and not just inundate them with a prepackaged product.
Building Digital Tools
This brand of customer-centric innovation can also be seen in the digital tools Kloeckner is developing for the industry. Kloeckner Connect is a digital platform with cloud-based applications that serve customers with real-time data, such as inventory levels, historical data, and forecasting. Each tool within the Kloeckner Connect family is tailored to meet a specific customer need.
These tools are designed to do the following:
- Help customers become more efficient and effective. We consider how easy is it to use the tool and if the features are beneficial to the specific customer. You have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes to really understand their pain points and address them.
- Provide real-time data on demand whenever you need it. It allows you to better plan out your day, and drastically increases the speed of doing things compared to previous workflows. Something that could have taken several hours before now can take less than 10 minutes.
- Provide the best customer service possible. Just because we are moving with technology, however, does not mean that the customer service will go away. One of the fears in the industry is that you will only be able to interact with a computer. This isn’t the case. The account manager, and support staff will still be there. The goal is to provide the best customer service possible, which includes human interaction in the areas where it needs to be. The purpose of the tools is just to make life easier.
The hope is that every tool we build is a necessity. If you have 100 features but only two are beneficial, that is just a waste of resources. That’s why we work directly with the customers when developing each feature.
The steel industry is an old and storied industry. It is a vital industry that has employed generations. When you learn how to do it one way, you generally keep doing it that way. It is complex, so it is hard for someone new to the industry to come in and know immediately how they might want to inject a different way of thinking. There is definitely a steep learning curve.
That is changing now, however. The industry and we here at Kloeckner recognize that digitalization is important. There are also external factors, such as the possibility of Amazon getting in the industry, driving the change. There’s really not a choice anymore.
Ultimately, these digital tools are added value services. As a one-stop-shop, it makes sense for us to develop digital tools in addition to our core business. Creating digital tools for customers is in some ways the same as providing fabrication services; it is another way to add value for the customer.
Success really comes down to understanding your customer base. The whole point of doing business with someone is to create a mutually beneficial relationship. So you have to constantly think of ways to grow both parties. Just because something seems to be working at the moment, doesn’t mean it can’t improve. You need to have a mindset where you are always pushing boundaries.
About Steven Nghe:
Steven Nghe is currently the Digital Product Innovation Manager for Kloeckner Metals Corporation based in Roswell, GA, and is the first person to hold this position. Steven is responsible for creating unique experiences and happier customers as well as reminding you about the sexy side of steel. Steven has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management with a concentration in Marketing from North Carolina State University.
About Kloeckner Metals:
Kloeckner Metals Corporation is a pioneer of the digital transformation in the steel industry and looks to fully digitalize the supply and service chain. Kloeckner is headquartered in Roswell, Georgia and consists of over 50 locations throughout North America and more than 2,400 employees. Kloeckner Metals is heavily focused on bringing value-add to our customers by being a one-stop shop on finished goods.
Kloeckner Metals Corporation is a member company of Klöckner & Co. Klöckner & Co has an established distribution and service network of around 190 locations in 13 countries, servicing over 130,000 customers.