Customer Relationships refers to establishing and continuously enhancing relationships with customers. As consumer demands, resource availability, and legal requirements evolve ever more rapidly, Clariant has made it a priority to position itself in such a way as to be able to anticipate impending changes and trends so that it can best recognize and acknowledge its customers interests and needs. Clariant collaborates with customers and takes initiatives to understand how they may be supported in achieving their goals. Engagement includes building and developing relationships with mutual trust. Establishing and maintaining strong customer relationships is important for Clariant throughout its complete value chain – from the procurement of raw materials to the end-consumer markets.
Management approach: increasing customer focus
Customer engagement lies at the core of Clariant’s commercial strategy. Clariant is committed to adding value for its customers by delivering innovative, competitive, and sustainable solutions, and to creating continuous, profitable growth. In the past years, Clariant has built additional marketing capabilities in its business units to continue its journey from a product-driven to a customer-centric organization. With the introduction of the new purpose in 2021 and the purpose-led strategyPurpose-led strategyClariant aims to move toward top-quartile results in specialty chemicals in terms of growth, profitability, sustainability, and people. Based on its purpose, »Greater chemistry – between people and planet,« Clariant unveiled a purpose-led strategy with four dimensions, accompanied by new financial and non-financial targets. The strategy reflects Clariant’s ambition to create value with innovative chemistry and a sustainability focus, putting customers, employees, and the planet at the center of all activities., customer focus has been anchored as a purpose dimension. As such, Clariant aims to shape the future with customers and a fruitful collaboration for meaningful impact. To create this impact, Clariant embodies the customer perspective, as well as their demands, and leverages regional market knowledge.
In 2022, Clariant followed up on this approach and shifted the focus even more toward its customers. By refining its sustainability priorities, it reinforced the commitment to work more closely with them, especially in the delivery of sustainable solutions and products. The aim is to go beyond »just chemistry« and offer a tangible benefit to the customers with any new product or formulation introduced to the market. And this is also reflected in the new company claim »Greater chemistry.«
016CUSTOMER APPROACH ANCHORED IN VALUES
In addition, the new organizational and leadership structure with fewer hierarchical layers and less complexity will help Clariant to continue to provide the best support for customers going forward. The new global company setup allows for more customer proximity in three business units that are headquartered in their respective key markets. With this corporate setup, Clariant started to structure the businesses around markets as opposed to product lines. This shift enables a more customer-centric and agile company.
Understanding customer needs
Creating beneficial partnerships with customers requires a deep understanding of their interests and needs. To promote a mindset supportive of this idea, Clariant announced new values in September 2022. Five values reflect the commitment to a strong and holistic company culture, and it is the first value that directly makes an important connection: Win with our customers, which in the day-to-day work translates into: customer satisfaction is key to Clariant’s success.
Clariant aims to strengthen the customer experience further. Therefore, it increases interactions through ongoing dialogue with existing customers, new prospects, and other partners along the value chain to uncover new business opportunities. Its flagship customer dialogue project is the customer satisfaction survey, which is conducted every other year. It provides comprehensive customer feedback. Due to the ongoing Group-wide transformation processes in 2022, the next regular survey, however, was rescheduled for 2023.
A highlight event in 2022 was the Clariant Roundtable on bio-based and segregated surfactants. For this event, Clariant brought together experts in the drive toward a net zero economy. Contents covered by external speakers included regulatory changes designed to encourage the transition (Carbon Trust), technologies required (nova-Institute), and how to inform and educate consumers on the journey (Mr. Goodvertising). The fruitful discussions with Christian Vang and participants focused on how the chemical industry and its customers can connect the dots between rapidly changing regulations and technologies. In addition, ways were considered on how to encourage the end consumer to play the most vital role of all, which is to change their consumption habits.
Clariant, in the Business Unit Catalysts, introduced a new digital customer survey tool called »Customer voice.« For the Business Unit Catalysts, a new digital customer survey tool called »MS Customer Voice« was introduced. With this new tool, feedback is being collected in real time after technical service and marketing events. This enables Business Unit Catalysts to directly and systematically gather feedback about participant satisfaction, as well as information about further/future business and service opportunities. So far, 61 feedback responses were collected for ACT (14) and Marketing (47).
The free online customer portal ClariHub, which was introduced in 2021 and used by the Business Unit Industrial & Consumer Specialties (ICS) to get into direct contact with its customers, has proven to be a popular and successful global tool again in 2022. Having achieved the mark of around 1 700 customers at the end of the reporting year, the ClariHub portal helps Clariant to immediately respond to customer inquiries, and in addition, it serves as »information hub« for Clariant customers with real-time ingredient data and »24/7 access« to various documentation. For example, users are enabled to track key metrics or find reference documents, such as MSDS and TDS files, ecolabel information, trend reports, or webinars. In addition, they are provided with relevant information such as FAQs and troubleshooting tips, as well as company and product details. While ClariHub serves as an extra channel for customer communication and queries, it is also helpful for Clariant to derive additional oversight and visibility. The portal in 2022 was extended with the latest insights from »BeautyForward,« the Clariant global trend platform for the Personal Care industry.
Clariant’s customer relationship management system provides employees with a guided process, helping them to prepare and manage business opportunities in a transparent and productive manner. Following up on improving customer relationship management, a new feature was introduced in 2022, which allows for more comprehensive information to be collected and recorded by the commercial team, such as customer requests and contact details.
In every Clariant business unit, a global head of marketing leads a dedicated team of marketing professionals. To identify and capture profitable growth opportunities, marketing teams work closely with technical and sales functions. Clariant regularly analyzes market trends and demands. In addition, leads from the web and follow-up exchanges with the customers serve as a source of information regarding customer needs. As the direct point of contact, Clariant sales managers are trained and sensitive to find out more about customer demands. They document their assessments in the CRM, which serves as the tool to track further actions.
Customer relationships and COVID-19
In 2022, due to a zero-COVID policy in China, Clariant dealt with various restrictions related to this region. Overall, interactions were digital, or, if possible, they involved an increasing number of physical meetings again.
In China, Clariant started a comprehensive digitalization approach called »Dragon Boat« in 2021. »Dragon Boat« efforts are tailored to Chinese user behavior and Chinese search engines. The first projects focused on WeChat, the most popular local digital platform: A dedicated Chinese website and a chatbot for Business Units Additives and Industrial & Consumer Specialties enable Chinese customers to access product information and a digital interaction with Clariant.
In a global 2021 project, Business Unit Industrial & Consumer Specialties (ICS) mapped the customer journey for a typical buying process, from the first contact to delivery and invoicing. The project aimed to improve the customer experience, particularly in the form of responsiveness. From an inside-out point of view, the business unit analyzed the importance of individual touchpoints for customers and compared its performance against competitors. For this purpose, it conducted extensive qualitative interviews with key stakeholders in all regions.
An important outcome and key improvement from this evaluation is »ClariHub« (referred to above), offering easy access for customers to extensive product information. Because of this, it has become easier for customers to identify and select ingredients from the Clariant portfolio. The platform is under continuous improvement, and new functionalities are developed and offered frequently, like the recent developments of BeautyForward and ClariCoat.
With the launch of »BeautyForward 6« in 2022, Clariant empowers the personal care industry to make natural ingredient choices. With the new ClariCoat, customers are able to find additives for paint formulation with just a few clicks.
Due to increasing raw material and energy costs, Business Unit ICS in 2022 continued the algorithm-based price optimization modeling. These algorithms recommend pricing corridors for individual customers and products. This automated process saves significant time for analysis and computation. The algorithm optimization continues further in 2023, expanding the data driven capabilities in identifying pricing outliers and value-based pricing opportunities.
Additional price management tools help the company to integrate different perspectives and information, to arrive at optimum prices, and to track them. In 2022, Clariant developed the »churn prediction tool,« using data and statistics to identify the risk of losing a specific customer business. This tool will remain relevant and valuable in times of increased market volatility.