Archive for category Management

Customer Service Is Everywhere!

dan21It’s all customer service… all of it!

Whatever you do, everything you do in a company is all a version of customer service.

Just like everyone in your company is a sales person, everyone in your company is a customer service representative. From the owner to the person in shipping to the person in plating its all about customer service.

Every one of your actions and interactions represent your company’s customer service interactions. So be very careful and very intentional in everything that you do.

When anybody calls you company and I live person answers, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When you send out a quote on time, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your sales person is on time for an appointment, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your product is packaged perfectly and has all of the correct documentation, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When a visitor goes to your rest room and it is sparkling clean, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When you handle a difficult quality issue, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your product is delivered on time, all the time, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your sales person’s car is spotlessly clean, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your receptionist greets a customer with a smile, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When you have a smile on your face when you’re talking on the phone, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When all of your wall charts are up to date, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your daily calendar is turned to the right page, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

And everyone is in customer service.

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Quality Is Everything

dan-6Yes, Quality is everything, and actually, it is in everything a company does. From the way you answer the phone, to the way you present your quotes, to the way you package your product, to the way your sales person looks and acts, to every single thing large, or small, that your company does for the customer.

A good and astute customer will be looking for quality in everything you do all the time. He will notice everything about your company from the look of your parking lot, the outside of the building, to your lobby, to you conference room, to your entire facility, all of it adds up to your overall quality picture.

Let me give you a few bad examples:

I once visited a company whose offices were a mess. There was coating of dust on everything, there were ashtrays, actual ashtrays, filled with cigarette butts, who knew how old those were? And the calendars on the wall were of scantily clad women! But that wasn’t the worst part…the calendars were at least five years old.

And, this was at that time a working board shop in western Florida, whose owner wanted my help selling that shop. I did not sell it, obviously, and they went out of business a few months later. What were they thinking? Did they really think someone would buy them? Were they really wondering why they weren’t getting orders anymore?

I visited a shop whose restroom, the public one, mind you, the one that customers were using, was a complete disaster. There were six urinals and three were broken and had been broken for so long that the plastic that they had duct taped over them was yellowed with age. There were no paper towels in the paper towel holders, and the room smelled just horrible. When I asked the owner about it he gave me a blank look and asked me, “what does have got to do with us making boards?” Gee I wonder.

Then, I went to shop once that had an ugly soggy sodden queen-sized mattress on the ground just below  the loading dock. When I pointed that out to the owner he looked at me like I had two heads.

By the way, you don’t have to worry, I’m not talking about your shop, these companies wentl out of business a long time ago. Not a surprise, that.

Okay, so those were the worst cases I’ve seen in my too long career in this crazy industry, but there is still a strong message here about quality to get back to my original point and that is that quality is everywhere and in everything you do.

One of the issues that has come up the past few months is that of documentation. As boards get more sophisticated, so does the paperwork, which in turn means that the quality of the paperwork is now as important as the quality of the board. A board shipped with the wrong documentation, is as unusable as a board that is delaminated, or a board that is late. The paperwork, just like the board itself, must be perfect.

The problem is that many people don’t get this. They build an extremely difficult board, practically kill themselves to get it out on time, get it to shipping with moments to spare, get it boxed up just in time for that hugely expensive Fed Ex overnight delivery, and then breath a huge sigh of relief as they watch the truck drive away with their hot, high tech very expensive, board.

Then the next day get an irate call from the customer, the one who paid premium quick turn money, the one who paid for that expensive overnight delivery, and now, alas the one who cannot use the boards, because they cannot be received because…well you choose: the packing slip does not match the invoice; the board count is wrong, there is no C of C, there are no coupons, the boards were sent to the wrong receiving dock, the mil-prf-31032 documentation is wrong or missing, and guess what? That customer is going to have to hold up the boards and hold up that assembly line until the you can send them the right paperwork, and the boards can be properly received into his system. And, all of that is for a normal weekday delivery date. You can just imagine how ugly it gets if the customer has brought in a crew on a Saturday specifically to work on those boards! And of course, because it is Saturday, your shop is closed so he is not going to be able to have you fix the issues until Monday. And to make matters even worse he still has to pay that very expensive crew for at least our hours of their time. That can get very ugly. And we wonder why people ask me why board shops suck?

Everything, and I mean everything, is important including the documentation that goes with your boards. Its all part of good customer service and good business practices. Now, more than ever your shipping department is as important as every other department in the company if not more so. Remember that, and take it seriously, very seriously. It’s only common sense.

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The All Important Intensive Customer Survey

dan-6Whether you are in the business of board fabrication or board assembly, the fact is that you are not building your own products. You are building your customers’ products which means that you are in the business of helping your customers be successful. The better your services are, the better their products will be, and the better their products are, the more successful they are, and the more successful we are.

In order to build their products well we have to know everything we can about our customers. We have to understand their processes, their end products, the environment their products see, the market they are in, and what it takes for them to be successful in their market.

There are a number of ways to find out about your customers’ needs. The first, and most obvious of course, is through your sales people. It is their job to get in front of the customers and find out everything they can about them. A great sales person will be able to learn a great deal about her customers, and what they need from your company. The second way is through company to company meetings. When the customer comes to your company to do a survey, take a tour, or meet with their counterparts in your company, they want to learn everything they can about your company. We in turn. try to do the same in return, but not often enough.

But there’s another way, a better way, and that is the customer survey. Now, I’m not talking about those little five simple question surveys that we have to send out to meet our ISO requirements – not that there is anything wrong with those, they serve a purpose. But that is not the kind of survey I am talking about.

No, I am talking about a well-thought out, personally delivered, customer survey. A survey filled with pertinent questions, that properly asked and answered, will give you a complete picture of what your customer is like. What follows is an example of a good survey that I have used in the past. Check it out and use it on your customers.

One bit of key advice I will give you. Make sure this survey is done in real time on the phone. This is not something to send in and expect your customers to fill it in like a test…ain’t gonna happen. Actually, the very fact, that you are taking the time to make a date with your customer, to talk to him, so that you can figure out how to do a better job for them is part of the appeal of a survey like this one. Your customers will be impressed.

Here are some of the guidelines to follow to do it right:

  • Have your sales people chose the customers to survey
  • Have a non-sales person perform the survey. Make sure this person is friendly and easy to talk to. The more this person is able to get the customer to talk, the better it will be.
  • Make sure the person is polite and not invasive. This survey should be done on the customers’ time.
  • Choose only seven or eight customers and make sure they represent a cross-section of your customers

Here is the survey:

CUSTOMER SURVEY

Part One: In the first part of the survey we are attempting to find out how your company is doing in terms of servicing your customers.

1. How would you rate our company as a supplier?

2. Do you find our company an easy customer friendly board shop to do business with?

3. Do you feel that we adequately handle all of your needs? Technical?  Quick Turn? __ Quality? Price? Other?

4. Do you feel that you can rely on our sales force to act as your customer advocate?

5.  Are you happy with our products and services?

6. Do you like doing business with our company?

7. Do you plan to use us in the future?

8. What type of specific requirements do you use our company for?

9.  What is the single most important factor is in your decision to place your business with our company?

Part Two: Getting your customers’ perception of your company

We are trying to get a better understanding of how we are perceived in the marketplace.  With this in mind, I want to ask you these questions:

11. In terms of annual revenue, what size in dollars do you think our company is?

12. How do you categorize us when it comes to technology level?

13. Is it your perception that our company is a Prototype shop? Production shop? High Technology shop? Do you know that we do (what our company niche is)?

14. How long do you think we have been in business?

15. Is ISO important in your selection of a vendor?

16. Would you recommend us to other customers who use our products?

Part three of the survey has to do with how you can become a better supplier to the customer.

(Thank the customer for being so patient then tell him you only have a few of questions left)

We only have a few more questions. These basically have to do with making us a better supplier.

17. If there were one single thing you would like to see us improve upon, what would that be?

18. Is there a particular technology that our company is currently not doing that you would like to see us get into?

19. Please describe what you would consider a great supplier?

20. Do you like to order production quantities from the same company that built the prototypes and preproduction orders?

21. When ordering, is it important that your supplier be located relatively near your facility?

22.  Now it’s your turn, are there any questions or comments you would like to express?

Then complete the survey by saying:

Thank you again for your time and for the business you have given our company. Again my name is _____________, the next time you are visiting our facility please make sure to stop by and say hello.

SUMMARIZATION

They key is to summarize this information and use it as effectively as possible.  List all of the questions and their answers together. This should give you good insight into what your customers as whole think about your company.  From these answers you create your action plan. For example if you are in the prototype business and half of your customers do not know it, you can focus on getting that message out.  If all or most of your customers say they need an ISO vendor or  vendor that has a certain qualification like AS 9100, and you’re not, you’ve got a problem to fix.

The important thing is to use this information wisely. In one form or another, your customers should be surveyed at least once a year. Its only common sense.

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Contract Manufacturers: Where Do You Get Your Boards?

Dan 8Choosing the right PCB vendor is critical to your success

Choosing the right PCB vendor is not as easy as you want to think it is. There are still many contract manufacturers out there who believe the myth that all PCB shops are the same and that in the end it’s only a matter of basing their decision on price and price alone. Oh, sure you’ll make yourselves feel better trying to know more about who you are dealing with. Some of you will actually visit potential vendors and perform surveys on them. This is a good thing, sometimes, because there are some shops who look fantastic when you visit them, pass your surveys with flying colors, and then go on to be a disaster when it comes to day by day performance. That’s because selecting the right board shop goes further than what it looks like on paper, or what it looks like period. I know some great looking shops that can’t perform worth a darn and then some of the ugliest shops you’ll ever see that are great performers.

Putting all of that aside, here are five good ways to choose the right PCB vendor for your contract manufacturing company.

  1. Ask them about their delivery and quality performance. Actually, ask them to back up what they claim their performance is. Ask to see the charts, the numbers. They are all going to tell you that their delivery and quality numbers are in the high 90’s don’t believe them, ask for proof. I mean look them in the eye and ask for proof, hard evidence, of this stellar performance they are claiming to have. Ask them how they measure this performance. An honest measurement for delivery is whether or not they meet the original date. Some companies will get a new catch-back date from their customers and then meet that date and call it on time. That is not on time. Meeting the original delivery date is true on time performance, no exceptions!
  2. Get references. Why doesn’t anyone do this? Ask them for references and then call those references and ask what their experience has been. It’s even better if you now someone who is or has been one of their customers and get their opinion of what’s it’s like to deal with this vendor. Find out for yourself. Do your research.
  3. Ask them if they are financially sound. The last thing you want is to invest in a vendor that will be out of business three months into the relationship. The repercussions of that situation are endless, especially when their doors are locked and your product is held hostage.
  4. Ask them how they handle customers issues. You will find that most customer/vendor relationships are formed in hardship. Any time you work with a PC shop there will be issues, there always are, and how you are treated dealing with those issues will end up making or breaking the relationship. Ask them to tell you about a time they had an issue with a customer and how it was handled.
  5. Once you decide to use a shop, start them off with a fairly simple order. Too often customers will lead off with their most challenging board. The one that they’ve had a difficult time sourcing, the one that everyone has had a hard time with. Do not give them that board. The first order should be an audition order. It should be simple and straightforward technology. You are checking out how their system works. How efficient their quote process is, how easy it is to place an order and of course how they perform on that order. Once you have a good feeling about their logistics, then start placing more orders and even get to the more challenging ones.

And one more, in the spirit of under promising and over delivering there is one more thing to think about and that’s the people. In the end it’s all about what you feel about the people you will be dealing with. You are after all, getting married to these people, not the company but the actual. people you will be dealing with. What kind of vibe do you get from them? Do you sense they respect their customers or do they delight in telling you some “the customer was stupid and we were so smart stories”? don’t laugh it happens all the time. Remember that your company and this company, your people and their people are going to be significant partners working towards the success of your company, so choose wisely my friends. No survey form ever tells the true story of the actual people you will be dealing with.

And, finally beware of board shops offering great price incentives, because in PCBs, like everything else, you get what you pay for. In the end a ten or even twenty percent discount will not make up for boards that are late holding up your production lines and causing late deliveries or worse yet, boards that have poor Quality causing eventual field failures on products that have your name on them, not that board shop’s. Once that happens, buying the cheapest board that money can buy will no longer seem like a great idea. It’s only common sense.

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Training The Youngsters: Show Them The Possibilities

There is no doubt there is a shortage of young people in our business. As we all get older, the challenge of finding young people to replace us is getting more severe. Last week in this column, we talked about finding young people in our own organizations and then nurturing them to become an integral part of our companies. So, I thought it only appropriate that this week we would talk about that nurturing process, training them to become not only viable, but outstanding members of our organizations.

The PCB is not a commodity and it has been a vital and important participant in the global innovation of electronics.

We must show them future. By that I mean show them the viability of our product; the past, the present and most importantly the future. Show them the value of the printed circuit board in the grand scheme of things. Point out that PCBs have taken us to the moon, they have made the computer age possible, they have made medical advancement possible, and yes, they have provided the very defense and safety of our country and the world. Show them some of the products that your specific customers are building. I still think back with great pride in knowing that I touched the PCBs the guided the Space shuttle and the PCBs that went to Mars on the Motorola Viking program. We have all been in a doctor’s or dentist’s office or in a hospital and seen our customers’ names all over the equipment that surrounds us, only to realize that our board are in the equipment. Even though so many of our customers try to commoditize our products, we all know better.

Teach them the entire process

For these young people to completely and understand our, it is important they know how they are built. This means more than just taking them on a plant tour to see the entire process. It also means having them spend some time in the shop. If they have been working in the shop already, chances are they only know their job, their part of the process. So, it’s important thy learn the entire process. The best way to do this is to have them spend time building a board themselves. Following it through the process and performing each step of that process. This will go a long way towards giving them an understanding of what it takes to build a printed circuit board. This gets even more important if the young person you’ve hired has never worked in our industry before, it will be time well spent.

Train them completely for their new position.

Whether they are going into sales or starting out in the drill room or being promoted from the drill room to a supervisory position, prepare and implement a complete and comprehensive training program. This program should not end too after a few weeks. A complete training program will have evolutionary stages of development along the way. Lay out an entire year’s development program. This will not only serve as a checkpoint to see how the person is doing but will also give you the opportunity to mentor the person along the way. Training is one area that has always been lacking in our industry and I believe it is the number one reason we are in the state are in today when it comes to the aging of our industry.

Show them the places they’ll go

Show them their future. Lay out a career path setting expectations for where they will be in one year, in three years, in five years. A young person has his entire future ahead of him, they only way you are going to keep him engaged is to show them that future, explaining to him in real detail the growth and earning possibilities he faces by investing his time and effort in our industry. Tell her about the earning power of a good mature engineer, or a passionate sales person. We should keep in mind, that our schools are not exactly lauding the advantages of working in manufacturing and the exciting possibilities that entails. Our kids are taught to be lawyers and doctors and accountants and teachers, they are never taught the possibilities of being involved in manufacturing, which is why when they do come to us it us, most of the time it’s just to have a job and a paycheck to put food on the table. They have no concept of the career that is possible and the earning potential that a career in manufacturing offers them. I can safely state that no young lady in high school ever said “when I grow up. I’m going to sell circuit boards!”

But to many of us, being in this business has provided opportunities far beyond our expectations. We have made a good and rewarding lives from this industry. But I can safely say that none of us at the age of sixteen ever said “When I grow up, I’m going to sell circuit boards” and heck, we turned out okay. Its only common sense.Dan 8

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That Annual Sales Meeting

dan-6Last week, we talked about preparing for 2018 by developing account plans and forecasts. We mentioned that this would be presented, viewed, and discussed by the entire management team at the annual sales meeting that would be held in January of 2018. This week, we’ll discuss that annual sales meeting.

This is truly, the most important meeting your company will hold every year. It is the one time during the entire year where the team comes together and intentionally talks about business for the coming year.

Besides the sales people presenting their slate of account plans, and their customer-by-customer month- by-month sales forecast, operations will talk about what their plans are for the coming year and how based on the sales forecast they will plan production shifts as well as staff the company to meet that forecast.

Engineering will talk about the new technologies they will be coming up with in the next year and when they will be implemented.

Both operations and engineering will present a capital plan, listing expenditures for the coming year including equipment, and facility upgrades and a schedule of when they will occur.

And Quality will discuss any new specs and qualifications and registrations that they plan to achieve or be updating in the coming year.

The marketing department will deliver their marketing plan including a quarter by quarter plan for synergistic marketing that will tie in, advertising, newsletters, and social media. They will also announce the trade shows they will be attending and exhibiting at.

There will also be a download of market information including a study of each market from defense and aerospace to security, to computers, to telecom, to medical and commercial to decide which market to target. There will also be a discussion of the competition; who is winning, who is left, who has gone out of business and why, as well as which companies have grown by doing what?

And finally, the entire team will come together and discuss the company’s strategic direction for the coming year. This will involve setting a complete plan in play for the coming year, including sales tactics based on the customers, technology, and markets that the company will be targeting not only in the next twelve months but also twenty-four, thirty-six and yes, even sixty months.

This team will study, discuss, and make major decisions on a number of key topics including whether or not to develop and implement an acquisition program for buying or merging with new companies. They may decide to develop and implement a roll-up plan where they acquire suffering companies and roll up their business into their own. Or they might decide to vertically integrate and buy an assembly company or a design service bureau so they can offer a total solution from design to assembly. Or alas, they might decide that it is time to call it day and sell the company or worse yet just close it…that’s ugly.

This annual sales meeting is a good time to discuss partnerships. Maybe the team decides that it is time to face facts and start offering offshore services, finally going out and getting some Asian suppliers to complement their own capabilities.

These are all issues that are discussed at this once a year annual meeting. But, the most important thing by far, is that all the company’s key people are together in one room for one, two, three days or even a week. Decided together the direction of the company. This is the real reason for the annual meeting. And therefore, every second of that meeting must be carefully planned. There should not be a minute wasted. Everyone should participate and have their fair representation at this meeting. And yes, everyone should come fully prepared to not only discuss their particular area but also with their strong ideas as the overall direction of the company.

And then there are three things that have to come out of the annual meeting:

  1. Everyone must be in complete agreement as to the direction of the company once the meeting is over. Inside the meeting room, there can be infighting and chair throwing and loud words and intense arguments. But once the meeting is over all management must come out of that room fully aligned and marching in step toward the company’s future.
  2. There has to be a communications plan. Once the direction of the company has been decided and everyone on the management team is marching in place, all the managers must go to their respective departments and convey these marching orders. In as little as twenty-four hours everyone, and I mean everyone in the company, must know chapter and verse the direction of the company.
  3. And the last thing that comes out of the annual meeting is a fully assigned and dated action plan. The plan that will become a working document. The tool, the blueprint, that everyone uses to not only implement that plan but measure that company’s progress against the plan’s dated milestones. Too many companies go to all the trouble of holding an annual meeting only to throw the plan in their bottom drawers and completely forget about it until the following September when it is time to repeat the entire process of annual planning. And that ladies and gentlemen is sheer foolishness.

If you are not planning to have an annual meeting this year. If you are not planning to develop account plans, and forecasts, and capital plans, and engineering plans. Then why don’t you just do yourself a favor and just plan to check out. Call my friend Tom Kastner and start the process of selling your company while you still have something to sell. It’s only common sense.

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Salespeople Are The Voice Of The Customer

dan-2So as that voice, make sure you get it right!

One of the greatest responsibilities we have as sales people is being the voice of the customer. This means that we must strive to always relay the customer’s message truthfully and most importantly accurately, because, very often the future of the relationship between your company and their customer is in your hands.

This means that you are the one person in the company who has the be the customer expert. It is your duty to learn everything about your customers and make sure that you convey that information accurately to the rest of your organization. Be careful to speak without bias so that you never put your “spin” on what the customer is thinking, or doing, for your own self-serving reasons.

Here are nine things to keep in mind when acting as the relationship manager between your company and the customer.

  1. Knowledge: Know everything you can about your customers, including the business they are in, the amount of your kind of products they buy, what their hot buttons are, and what their needs are both today and in the future.
  2. How to win the business: Learn what it takes to win their business. Find out who they are dealing with, who your competition is, and why that competition is successful. Learn what your customer thinks it takes to be a great supplier and then pass this on to your company.
  3. Be the news reporter: Keep your company up to date on any changes in the status of your customers all the times. Are they in trouble financially? Are they buying someone? Are they going to be introducing a new product? Are they going to be sold.? All this information is vital to the customer/ company relationship and it is up to you as the sales person to make sure your company knows everything and I mean everything.
  4. Mediator: When problems occur, it is up to the sales person to help solve those problems. This is when she really earns her money and this is when accuracy in communications is especially important. This is particularly true when things heat up, when the relationship hits the skids. The sales person is the one who must cool things down. She is the one who must do everything possible to sustain the relationship at all costs. She is the one who makes sure that the company does not win the battle but in the end, lose the war.
  5. Bearer of bad news: As they said in the Godfather, management needs to hear the bad news immediately! No matter how painful it is to hear, bad news should be communicated right away.
  6. Be an Armadillo: Yes, a true sales person must have skin as tough as an armadillo because there are times, especially hard times, when the company is going to want to shoot the messenger because they are so angry and frustrated about the news they are hearing. This means the sales person has to hang tough. He should be able to relay the customer’s negative message with clarity and without exaggeration. He cannot let his own feelings get in the way of conveying the customer’s sometimes insulting message, in a way that will get the point across but at the same time will not pour gasoline on the fire. This is a tough, but important one.
  7. Provide a live butt to kick: When the customer is particularly irate it is up to the sales person to go directly to that customer an offer himself up as the sacrificial lamb, to provide that fresh live butt for the customer to have the satisfaction of kicking. You’d be surprised at how often this works and how often it serves to diffuse the situation.  A great sales person will show up and provide the customers the opportunity to vent. Believe it or not, the sales people who do this are the most respected in the business on their industry.
  8. Accurate and complete conveyer of all news: Sales people should make sure they know all the facts in any critical situation. They need to be able to correctly report any problems a customer is having with their company. If it is a technical problem they need to know all facets of the problem so they can convey it accurately to the people at their own company. They need to be able to anticipate the questions that their engineers and Quality people will ask to be able to develop the right solution to the problem as quickly as possible.
  9. Number one customer advocate: Always, the sales person has to put the customer first; and she has to make sure that everyone at the company does the same.

And finally, there is one more, under promise and over deliver, and that one is to never over promise and under deliver something that is often the case when it comes to sales people. Look, we know that a good sales person must be optimistic, but try to keep your rosy outlook in check. You are not helping your company out if you over forecast or if you let them know that everything is all good with that large customer, when it is not. No one likes surprises, especially negative ones, so no matter how much you would love to forecast that huge million-dollar order for this year. Make sure it’s in the bag before you do. It’s only common sense.

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