Caterpillar’s E-commerce Team is Building the Future of Customer Service. Here’s How.

Cat Digital’s e-commerce tools support their hard-working customers every day through streamlined search and robust resources.

Written by Brigid Hogan
Published on Dec. 16, 2022
Caterpillar’s E-commerce Team is Building the Future of Customer Service. Here’s How.
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Every day, Caterpillar and its customers keep the world working.

In Tennessee, an all-female paving crew operates a fleet of equipment featuring custom pink racer stripes.

High in the Alps, Cat machines power the excavation of 15,000 cubic meters of earth a day at the Kühtai Dam project, the largest construction site in Europe.

In Peoria, Illinois, a bulldozing team checks over their excavators, dozers and loaders before their next job.

Three Cat diesel generators stand ready to provide back-up power to a large data center in Omaha, Nebraska to ensure businesses have uninterrupted power 24/7.

And soon, in Chile’s Atacama Desert, the largest copper mine in the world will be relying on an all-Caterpillar truck fleet.

Behind the scenes, the Cat Digital e-commerce team supports each of these customers by providing the equipment, parts and information they need to get the job done.

“We have to look at how our solution performs globally,” Senior Software Engineering Manager Liz Trilikis, who has been at the company for 23 years, said. “Our e-commerce solution needs to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and needs to be scalable to be able to handle the growth that we're expecting in the future.”

 

“Our e-commerce solution needs to be scalable to be able to handle the growth that we're expecting in the future.”

 

Trilikis works closely with the product team, including E-Commerce Product Manager Brent Steffen. Steffen joined Caterpillar the same year as Trilikis, and his enthusiasm for the opportunities to support dealers and customers has not waned.

“We have an opportunity to build out the best e-commerce experience for various different customer sizes and types,” Steffen said. “Every day we’re working to make our customers more successful and efficient with digital by modernizing our information architecture, optimizing search and enhancing customer personalization through data and analytics.”

 

The e-commerce team stands with a Caterpillar machine
Caterpillar

 

For almost a century, Caterpillar customers across the construction, energy, transportation and resource industries have relied on a strong relationship with their Cat dealers to ensure they have support and access to the parts they need to maintain their equipment for decades. And as technology continues to develop, Cat Digital is finding ways to extend that relationship into their online channels.

“When customers come onto our e-commerce channels, they have some maintenance or repair event that they're trying to resolve,” Digital Product Manager Drew Tolly said. “We want to use data on those pieces of equipment and repairs to make their search results more relevant and contextual to their task at hand.”

When customers use Caterpillar’s e-commerce solutions, they are provided with a robust collection of content to help them get their repairs done efficiently and effectively. From the first click through the final purchase, the e-commerce team is offering their customers the right solutions at the right time. 

 

“We serve some of the hardest working customers on the planet who are out there every day, building, maintaining and powering our world.”

 

“We are building a team that has strong technical aptitude along with deep knowledge and understanding of our customers and our products,” Steffen said.

For Trilikis, Steffen and Tolly, the work at hand is more than just transforming their legacy applications into industry-leading solutions — they are finding new ways to support their customers around the world, whether that work is in a small Midwestern town or an Alpine mountain pass.

“We serve some of the hardest working customers on the planet who are out there every day, building, maintaining and powering our world,” Tolly said, and their product focus ensures that Caterpillar’s e-commerce platform offers those customers what they need, when they need it.

 

 

How is your team working to evolve Caterpillar’s e-commerce product?

E-Commerce Product Manager Brent Steffen: Our machines are designed to run a long time and be rebuilt several times, so our customers are always looking for ways to efficiently support their equipment in the aftermarket. At the highest level, our collective team is asking, “How can we improve our customers’ workflow? How can we improve their overall experience? How can we help keep their machines and engines up and running?”

Our e-commerce strategy is directly tied to Caterpillar’s growth strategy. Our e-commerce products enable our dealers to do more than $10 million in parts sales to users per business day. That’s just the start. We have significant growth ambitions. “When it comes to construction, mining, energy and transportation, e-commerce adoption has unique challenges as customers are operating in the field and in challenging environments.” Through our efforts to simplify e-commerce in our industries, we're seeing an uptick in adoption, but our growth opportunity is huge.

 

Caterpillar’s digital product journey

Caterpillar’s product management team works closely with platform data, customers and internal partners to understand customer needs and Caterpillar’s aftermarket services strategy. After developing the overall e-commerce strategy and identifying critical initiatives, the product team builds out those requirements along with user experience and user interface plans. Then the engineering team steps in to turn their shared vision into reality. According to Liz Trilikis, her team finds “the right technologies to use, design, develop and implement and then supports those solutions on an ongoing basis.”

 

What has your team learned while developing a platform that can serve every customer?

Steffen: Caterpillar has a global dealer distribution network with around 160 dealers. Right now, we are investing heavily in making e-commerce a preferred channel as it provides efficiencies for many of our customers, as well as our dealers. 

Our role is to build out the best experience and personalized workflows on a common platform for customer segments across retail buyers, professional buyers and integrated buyers. We are building out capabilities that fit each unique customer need on the common platform, and then we work with our dealers worldwide to enable them to deliver regionally-specific capabilities. 

 

“Caterpillar has a global network with around 160 dealers, and our e-commerce platforms are integrated with roughly 130 of those dealers.”

 

Senior Software Engineering Manager Liz Trilikis: We integrate with other systems at Caterpillar across our ecosystem, and we have a lot of data about our equipment and service information. We’re able to share that with our e-commerce customers in a way that helps them confidently buy the correct part to fit their equipment, so they can get going with the job that they need to do. Our ability to integrate across our systems to enable that experience is a differentiator for us.

Digital Product Manager Drew Tolly: We put a lot of TLC into our user experience with a modern design system, ongoing usability sessions and a large investment into core content. Having images, specs and descriptions for each product helps provide customers with confidence that they are choosing the right part for their equipment. There are things we are doing to manage both the global nature of our business and diverse customer needs, but there are also going to be wins for any customer.

 

Caterpillar's e-commerce platform
Caterpillar

 

How does the e-commerce platform serve customers in different industry segments?

Steffen: How our retail buyers and our professional buyers interact with our sites and experiences is vastly different. Our retail buyers may only have one Cat machine or engine, and so the frequency of their repair needs may only be once a year. When they come to our site, they’re heavily interacting with search. These customers are heavily reliant on the content we serve up and value flexible payment options and being able to see and track the status of their orders. 

The professional buyer is placing multiple parts orders every single day across multiple dealers. They value efficiency and the ability to make repeat purchases from saved shopping lists so they can quickly get that machine or engine back in the field. Our customers' success will lead to our success, so enabling their workflow through the streamlined digital experience is what our collective teams are focused on.

Trilikis: Often, the retail customer is searching on Google, and they come to the site to find the part. We're investing in the search experience, natural language search, machine learning and personalization in order to get customers to the parts they need to do the job.

 

 

Tolly: When customers are looking at a part, we can use our rich data to say, “As you’re buying that alternator, you may also need these other three parts to do that job and make it efficient.” This prevents a customer from getting out to a repair and discovering they need those three other things. Even beyond that, we can say, “Okay, you may need these three other parts. Did you know we actually sell this kit of parts that has those three other parts you need plus service instructions to actually go do that repair?” It goes beyond selling the part to supporting the customer at every step. Customers tell us they need help, and we use data to provide real solutions.

 

“It goes beyond selling the part to supporting the customer at every step. Customers tell us they need help, and we use data to provide real solutions.”

 

What are you most excited about on the horizon for Caterpillar’s digital team?

Steffen: In December, we have a major release for our professional buyers where we are building out a unified dashboard that brings together all their order information, order status and shopping lists — all the parts information they need to run their business and support their fleet more efficiently and effectively. Our team has spent a lot of time with professional buyers in the field to watch and observe what they do each day so we could build out this brand-new control center to optimize their workflow.

Trilikis: In September, we completed both a major upgrade to our software platform and migrated to the cloud. We have a stronger and more secure foundation and can start an optimization journey. We are taking this monolithic platform and breaking it down into composable commerce components that will allow our architecture to be more flexible and deliver value to the business faster.

 

We are continuing to transform how our customers support and maintain their equipment through digital means.”

 

What projects or goals are you focused on looking toward 2023?

Steffen: We are continuing to transform how our customers support and maintain their equipment through digital means. We’re rolling out QR codes on all of our machines and engines and driving that traffic back to machine-specific content to improve the owning and operating experience of Cat equipment. A customer in the field may have a question about their backhoe loader’s maintenance plan and can scan that QR code, which takes them to asset-specific content where they can learn about how to better operate or maintain that piece of equipment. By connecting that digital and physical experience to improve customer workflow, we can evolve how our customers are supporting and maintaining their equipment.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via Caterpillar.

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