Out of the Box Learnings for Chemical Companies: How the Travel Industry Digitalizes Customer Journeys

November 08, 2019

two woman sitting in airport

Chemical companies are often focused on operational excellence; to cope with the industry’s increasing challenges, they have to up their game regarding commercial excellence. Thinking outside the box is now in order: What can chemical companies learn from other industries? Our four-part series is all about experts from other sectors sharing their knowledge and how it can be applied to the chemical industry. For a start, let’s take a look at the travel industry and how it modernized customer journeys.

Gained from many years of experience in the chemical industry, we often detected that chemical companies are focused strongly on operational excellence. They are well-equipped to efficiently produce their products and maintain stable margins. But commercially, these companies have been relying on traditional commercial practices. Here, pricing is often cost-plus and historically grown, discounts are unconditional and customer journeys are long established. In a slowing world economy, this poses a problem – if not now, then in the near future. When aiming for commercial excellence, there’s a lot to be learned from other industries. Especially those that have undergone significant commercial transformations in the recent past. Learning from these valuable experiences enables long-term success. One major industry that has completely reinvented its commercial model is the travel industry: It has gone from offline travel agents to a full online customer journey.

3 questions to travel expert Dimitris Hiotis about digital customer journeys in the travel industry

Dimitris, what is the current state of digitalization in your industry?

Dimitris Hiotis: Twenty years ago, while other industries were still wondering how the internet could affect their business, airlines were already selling tickets online. And websites like Expedia were changing forever the way we buy travel products. Today, traditional high-street travel agencies have been more or less replaced by online agents, websites, search engines, apps, and aggregators. Paper-free travel is the norm – booking a flight, checking in, and even boarding an aircraft are all possible without printing a single ticket.

What is the next step?

Dimitris Hiotis: As early advocates of the digital revolution, hoteliers, airlines, and travel agents are already moving to the next level – personalization. This latest trend caters to customers looking for a tailor-made personal experience: Nowadays, tourists want to escape the masses and rather learn how to dance flamenco from a local in Andalusia  or do a fresco painting workshop in Florence. The digital infrastructure and Big Data expertise the tourism industry has developed in recent years are crucial elements to individualize offerings and improve customer engagement and relationships.

How do travel companies use digital tools to their advantage?

Dimitris Hiotis: During transactions, travel providers obtain large amounts of data due to digital technologies, which they can use to uncover customer behavior patterns to shape individualized experiences for their guests. Knowing which welcome drink to present to Mike and Rachel on their first evening on board adds a personal touch to the start of their journey. While being able to greet them by name at check-in or serve them with “their usual” in one of the cruise ship’s restaurants further personalizes the experience.


What chemical companies can learn from this

Finding the elements that make travel companies superior in terms of customer centricity compared to the chemical industries as well as implementing them is no easy feat . The key lies in implementing a customer-centric approach. This means for example, making the customer journey or the (re-)ordering process as simple as possible. Generally, this leads to more orders and less churn. If it is easier to order online on your platform than from your competitor’s, customers will be more likely to choose you.

Current customer journeys: too late, too difficult

The thing is, customers generally have already made their buying decision when contacting account managers, especially when reordering. But right now, customers frequently get frustrated by having to repeat order details to account managers. A customer may also deal with different account managers, due to absence or a change in account management, where pre-arranged details have to be repeated. This could very well lead to the revision of a purchasing decision already taken. If customer details are pre-filled and previous orders can be copied with the same conditions, this will significantly enhance the customer experience.

Forerunners within the chemicals industry

There already are some chemical companies doing a lot of things right when it comes to offering convenient and transparent digital customer journeys. Two examples for customer centric organizations:

  • Ecolab: Instead of selling water chemicals, Ecolab has partnered with Microsoft’s cloud platform Azure and an IoT services company. The goal was to provide real-time data-based process water management, helping customers advance toward net-zero water usage while reducing operating costs. Ecolab’s customer journey is automated since it is an integral part of the product process. As soon as a product runs low, new orders are placed with minimal customer intervention. Therefore, the company always provides exactly what the customer needs. Consequently, customers will likely remain very loyal, due to the effortlessness of getting all required products needed.
  • Clariant: Specialty chemicals producer Clariant partnered with matchmycolor and Konica Minolta to offer a digital color matching service. The company thus provides color grading data for its pigments, which are used in combination with Konika Minolta spectrophotometers. How it works? A Konika Minolta device detects a color and Clariant provides an accurate recipe to match it in seconds. By making color matching this easy, Clariant customers have great advantages.

To sum up, there are a few examples of chemical companies that distinguish themselves with their customer-centric customer service. But they are the exception, not the rule. To change this, companies can look towards travel services and adapt their way of offering products and services in an easy, transparent, and digital way.

Read more from our series: Chemical companies learning from others

Part 2: How Airlines Maximize Profits Through Dynamic Pricing

Part 3: How the Software Industry Optimizes Product Packaging

Part 4: How B2C Industries Utilize Digital Marketplaces