Times may have changed, but some things never do. The old adage that the customer is always right still stands. No matter how hard it is to accept, you have to live with that law if you want to stay in business.
We all know that it is harder to respect the customer now than it has ever been. Customers are much more demanding and insistent that we do things their way. And the irony is that they want less direct communication with us than ever before. The want to do everything online, and they won’t pick up the phone if you call them. And heaven forbid if you try to visit them in person…they want no part of that.
So you are supposed to figure out what it is they want, and in many instances with absolutely no help from them. Many times they will even get angry if you ask too many questions, even if those questions are designed to help give them what they want.
Difficult as it is, this is the world we live in, so we have to do whatever we can do make it work. Here are five things you can do to communicate with your customers and educate them, so they can help you help them to build a better product.
- Show them how valuable your knowledge can be to them. Instead of trying to “one up” your customers by showing them how much smarter you are about PCBs, try to educate them in a friendly and helpful way. Offer them seminars and webinars on how a board is built. Send them presentations and books about how boards are fabricated. Do whatever it takes to make your customers “board smart” because the smarter your customers are about building your product, the better their tools will be and the more respect they will have for your technology and what it takes to build their boards.
- Invite them to your facility. Look, captive board shops are a thing of the past. Many of the people we used to interact with, the ones who were buying boards or supporting those who bought boards, had come out of their companies’ captive board shops. For the most part these people are long gone and the people who have replaced them have never been in a board shop, so invite them to yours. Ask them over for the day, feed them, lecture them, tour them and educate them. Bond with them and create a partnership. This will go a long way toward making you their trusted advisor and expert on printed circuit boards.
- Learn everything you can about them. Visit their company. Find out how their boards are being used. Learn about their marketplace and who their customers are and what they have to do to succeed with their customers. Go to their receiving department and learn what they do with your boards when they arrive. Try to find ways to make it easier for them to use your boards. Could you package the boards in a way that would be more compatible with the way they receive the boards? Teach them how to handle your boards, how to pre-treat and bake them if need be. Show them how boards fabricated from different laminates should he handled differently and why. Be their expert, their partner, and their friend.
- Help them design the boards so that you will build them the best boards for the best price. I know this is not always easy and often they don’t want to hear what you have to say, but keep trying. If you have been working at doing items 1, 2 and 3, they should have enough trust and respect in you by now to listen to your advice about designing boards and calling out the right laminates in a way that will make your job easier while giving them the best product at the most economical price.
- Go back to what we said in the beginning of this column: the customer is always right. There’s another old saw that is relevant here: “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Live by that; it’s the only way to go. And finally, one more (there is always one more in my “underpromise and overdeliver” world):
- Lead the way when respecting your customers. Show your staff by your example that you’re in business to serve your customers and that without customers you would not have a business. Never allow your folks to speak disrespectfully about your customers. Make sure you never speak disrespectfully about your customers, because if you do, you are giving everyone in your company permission to do the same.
The customer is always right and it is your job as a company leader to understand that and make sure everyone in your company understands it as well.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is a 30-year PCB industry veteran, sales and marketing expert, and writer. He has contributed to numerous industry publications on topics ranging from sales and marketing, to board shop performance.