No one will confuse the chemical industry with Silicon Valley. A purchasing agent in the chemical industry would find that the product categories today aren’t too much different from 1970. Sure, there have been great advancements in the chemistries, the application methods, and in the site optimization of usage, but the general product categories are eerily similar. An old brochure from water treatment companies would probably list categories such as these:
o Cooling Tower Biocides
o Corrosion inhibitors
o Emulsion Breakers
o Filtration Media
o Reverse Emulsion Breakers
o Scale Inhibitors
But there is a shift reminiscent of the trend that technology companies in Silicon Valley have led us to expect: “An Amazing Customer Experience”. From the ease of purchasing, to the visibility into the status of the order, to the expectation that the vendor will accept a return with ‘no questions asked’, these companies are investing heavily into creating customer centric cultures to keep us coming back as customers. And although you’d be challenged to find a “Director of Customer Experience” in the chemical industry, you will start to see companies differentiate themselves on the experience they want you to have during the buying process.
But first, how did we get here?
Before we had the power of the web in our pockets, information was scarce. A sales rep had all the power in delivering product and industry information to you. Your visibility into how many options you had was limited at best. The relationship the rep built over time was required to build trust so that you would trust the information she was providing to you. This rep was your main point of contact for handling technical questions, support questions, and often in placing orders.
But the internet has shifted the power balance and now you can research all your chemical options and even compare services between companies before a rep ever calls on you.
Download List of Water Treatment Companies: If you’re ready to start evaluating companies, here is a list to get you started. Included in this guide are some of the top water treatment companies in the United States.
differentiating with customer experience
As you narrow your search, you’ll often find there are a handful of suppliers that appear to meet all your requirements. This is where the relationship you have with a rep may help determine your selection. Or maybe you find some differentiation between costs that tip the scale. But we’re willing to bet that the true differentiation amongst suppliers will be in the experience you have with their product or brand.
The “Customer Experience” are those things we’ve come to expect from tech companies as outlined above. The customer experience starts from the first time you interact with a product or brand. The customer experience then ensures you achieve the value you expected from the purchased product or service. And although technology will play a role in helping make this future a reality, the result will be a much more human experience.
Speaking of the human experience, remember the rep that used to hold all the power? She will still be a vital component of this value chain, but we expect her role and her responsibilities to shift towards mimicking that of a Customer Success Manager. Helpscout connects the customer experience journey with the role of this customer success manager quite succinctly: “The primary focus of customer success is to identify what success means to your customer, and to work hand-in-hand to help them achieve it in every aspect of their customer journey with your company.”
"table stakes" for water treatment chemical suppliers
All of this talk about the customer experience assumes you’ve narrowed your search based upon what we call ‘table stakes”. In an article discussing the selection criteria for a manufacturer of water treatment chemicals, we outlined key considerations to narrow your search such as
- Product Expertise / Technical Support Capabilities
- Values & Customer Service
- Supply Chain
We invest heavily in these areas, because they’re crucial for us to develop long-term partnerships with prospective buyers. In fact, we built our team, our systems, and our supply chain to differentiate ourselves on these attributes. But the shift that is occurring will make these attributes a requirement rather than a differentiator. We believe that prospects will demand that chemical suppliers are strong in each of these areas just to have a seat at the table, which is why we call them ‘table stakes’.
But, if you are looking for differentiation amongst these key considerations, you can still find them. Signals such as ISO certifications or certifications from The “National Association of Chemical Distributors” (NACD) help separate the world class water treatment chemical suppliers from the rest. NACD is a group where “members demonstrate their commitment to continuous performance improvement in every phase of chemical storage, handling, transportation, and disposal.” Chemical Suppliers that are NACD certified signal their commitment to quality and safety. We are proud to not only be NACD certified, but also to be selected as one of two winners for the 2019 Responsible Distribution Excellence Award. Okay enough bragging, the point is that suppliers can still differentiate themselves in areas such as quality, training, safety, and service.
That's a Wrap
As mergers and acquisitions have consolidated many old differentiators within the chemical industry, we should expect the next wave of differentiation to occur by delivering a better customer experience. Those that don’t adjust and build a customer centric culture may not like what they find on the other side. As a cautionary tale, just ask the taxi industry if consumers care about the customer experience. There will be winners and losers, but the biggest winner will be the purchaser of the chemicals.