Peeking Into The Future: The Future Is Here Now!

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I like to read anything I can get my hands on, when it comes to predicting technology of the future. I have been doing this since discovering Alvin Toffler’s ground-breaking book Future Shock, decades ago. Since then, I have read several books predicting the future, and so many of the things they talked about in those books have come true. Things like a book in the nineties that said that one day we will be watching TV shows, when we want to watch them! Can you imagine? Or, that someday there will be rockets that can go into space and then come back to earth, and safely land. Wow! Or cars that will drive themselves? Who could believe that?

I was reading an article about the future recently and realized that the future is here right now. That we are living in an age where the things we once only dreamt about are now here. We have devices right now that literally run our house, devices, that allow us to check on our houses from thousands of miles away, that allow us to turn off our lights in our living room in Montana, while we are enjoying a fine meal in a restaurant in New York City.

We have come to expect change for the better because it has been happening so quickly, in the past twenty years, that we are at point of taking things for granted. A well-known comedian does a bit about the fact that all we do is complain about air travel and what a pain it has become, when we should really stop for a minute and  realize that in just five hours we are flying coast to coast in a long metal tube, something that would have astounded our grandparents a few generations ago, but we just take it for granted instead complain about the size of the bag of peanuts.

I remember friends coming over to watch the 1975 world series, on my brand-new Magnavox 25-inch color television, and being impressed at the size of the screen, one friend even commenting that it was like being in a movie theater! And now who wants a puny 25-inch television set? Remember when T.V.s were furniture?

Now we would not be surprised if there were, wait a minute, there are one hundred foot and bigger televisions.

Here is what we are we can expect in the future and we are not that excited about:

Going into space: Yes, all of us expect to be able to take a ride into space sometime in our lifetime and are not that impressed anymore.

Robots are going to take over manufacturing, and, of yes, also brain surgery: Yes sure, tell me something that I don’t know…yawn.

Special printers will be able to make anything: Oh, wait we have that already, don’t we?

Our house will automatically adjust to our preferences and needs: Bill Gates already has that, and we are on our way to having it as we speak.

Cars are going to be able to drive themselves: Yeah, yeah, we know that what else do you have?

Sorry, I am boring you, maybe I can come up with a couple you have not heard about:

Your shirt that will do CPR: MIT is working on this right now. The shirt will detect if you are having a heart attack, send emergency alerts, and yes, administer CPR.

Shoes, that diagnose your overall health: Using the nerve endings in your feet, shoes will have sensors to track body weight, heart rate, blood pressure and activity and send data and alerts to your caregivers.

Stem cell patches that will replace damaged heart tissue:  The heart cannot regenerate itself after a heart attack, but animal studies with tissue patches, have shown that cells delivered in a premade tissue patch will help grow new cells. A patch therapy using contracting cardiac muscle cells could be available in trials in twelve years.

Your voice will be able to diagnose your health: New technology will sense changes in your voice from tone, to speech patterns, and create a number of brain, muscle, and respiratory health measurements to help identify depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and more.

You will be able to put yourself in your friends into the movies: It’s called hyper-individualizing a movie so that you can put your face and body in the place of the actor and put them on the screen, so that you can be the hero of the movie.

Pretty cool stuff, right? Amazing, but, I must wonder how long it will take us to absorb these new innovations and start taking them for granted. I predict that it will happen by the time you’re done reading this column. It’s only common sense.

By the way the information about new technology comes from that deep scientific journal, The AARP Bulletin!

 

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What Customers Crave More Than Anything Else

dan-7When it comes to what customers really want there is one big secret. They think that they want our products or services. They think that they want us to deliver good products on time. They think that they want good quality. They think that they want a great price (or “great value” as they would rather put it). They think that they want this product when they want it. They think that if they can get these things from a vendor they will have everything they want, everything will be right with the world and yes, they will be happy.

To a certain extent they are correct, they do want all of these things and it is our job to give them these things. But in the end this is not what will make them happy and it is most certainly not what will delight them. No, the thing that will make them happy, the thing that will delight them, and the thing that will send them running down the street excitedly telling anyone who will listen how great your company is…the experience.

That’s right, the experience of doing business with you. Experience, that intangible that can make all of the difference between a good vendor and a great vendor, experience that certain “je ne sais quoi” (roughly translated: a quality that cannot be easily described) that makes Nordstrom, L.L. Bean, Disney and Apple the super great companies that they are when it comes to delighting their customers.

It is the delightful experience of doing business with your company that will motivate buyers to actually pay more just for well, for the delightful experience of doing business with your company, even if you are selling the very same product with the very same quality and delivery as the other guy. In the end it is always the experience of doing business with a company that wins out.

What is experience? What is this illusive intangible that we are talking about? Well that’s it exactly, experience is made up of all those intangibles that you do for your customers. It’s all those small but extremely important little things that you do that a customer does not even realize you are doing until he does not get them anymore. These are the things that are as they in the commercial, “priceless”. “The things that people cannot buy at any price, from anyone else, but that they really value.” To quote Seth Godin.

Here is a list of some intangibles as listed on one of Seth’s blogs from his new book,

Participation: Brainstorm with the customer about how you can work together to create the thing they need. Participation is priceless. After all if all you’re doing is meeting my spec, why exactly should you be rewarded?

Enthusiasm: You’d be amazed at how much people value enthusiasm. Genuine transparent enthusiasm about the project you’re working on.

Speed: Don’t forget speed. If you are overwhelming faster than the alternatives, what’s that worth? For some people more than you can imagine.”

Focus: Focus and personal service are invaluable.

Generosity: Generosity is remembered for a long time. People remember what you did for them when you didn’t have to do a thing, when you weren’t looking for new business, when it was expensive or costly for you to do it.

Peer Pressure: Peer pressure is another silent intangible. What will my friends think if I choose you? What if I don’t choose you? Is it fashionable to pay a lot? How hard are you working to establish a connection across your market so that choosing you is the right thing to do, regardless of the price?

Hope: Hope is probably the biggest. Do you offer hope for something really big in the future? Maybe it is just around the corner, but perhaps in the long run. What does it look and feel like? Are you drawing a vivid picture?”

And there is one more, and this is the one that I feel in our business, and maybe in all businesses for that matter is the most important intangible of all and that is how you handle things when you mess up. How you deal with the situation when you make an error. There is actually a huge opportunity to deliver a great customer experience especially in a business to business setting. If you examine the relationship you have with your very best customer I can guarantee that somewhere along the line you have a problem with that customer’s product and the way you handled that problem is what formulated the great relationship you have with that customer today. Great business relationships are often forged by the way the vendor handled a problem.

If you want to be a great company, if you want to be that company that your customers brag about, then just delivering good product on time is not nearly enough. You have to deal with these intangibles. You have to give your customers this great experience that they won’t want to live without out. You have to be priceless. It’s only common sense

 

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The Good Old Days

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Remember when it was fun?

Yes, the good old days always seem whole lot better than they probably really were at least in the rear-view mirror. But, looking back from these too serious times we live in today, they probably were a lot better than we even remember

Here are a few stories from that somehow seemingly, lighter, and more carefree past:

From the 70’s: As a program coordinator (actually, a gloried name for expeditor) for Maine Electronics, in Lisbon, Maine, back in the non-computer days when we had to track every single layer, of every single board, by hand and wrote down the status in a black notebook.  There were six of us “program coordinators” getting to work at 5:00 AM, so that we could find and status all our parts for the big meeting at 7:00. At Seven sharp, the meeting would begin. There were six large cafeteria tables put together in a big conference room, and there still wasn’t room for everyone: supervisors, process engineers (methodizers, we called them back in the day) quality engineers, and sales people all quietly listening as each program coordinator read off the status, program after program, part number after part number, literally hundreds of them. While the rest of us lived in fear of the division president who sat at the head of the table, stopping the read of the status, every so often to scream at one supervisor, or another, because a part in the supervisor’s department had not moved in three days! Heads rolled, tables were pounded, accusations were made, fingers were pointed, and wild threats were made about the various things that would be done to the guilty party’s posterior, ranging from “getting a new one,” to chewing it, to a making it a new place for his head, to frying it; while a giant Maalox bottle was passed around the table.  Oh, the good old days!

Or from the 80’s: As the New England Regional Sales Manager for General Circuits out of Rochester, NY. In those pre-FedEx days, driving 200 miles a day. From my home office in Bedford, NH to Boston’s Logan airport to pick up boards that had been sent over night via US Airways, and bringing them to Computervision in Bedford, MA. Then dropping them off, visiting the buyer, an extremely salty old guy by the name of Lou Cardillo, who would threaten my with what he was going to do to my posterior if my boards were late again, and then giving me more purchase orders (yes we got PO’s every single day!) and the artwork films, which I then took back to Logan Airport, to send overnight to Rochester; and then picking up more boards that had come in since my last trip, for Digital Equipment and drive them to Acton, Littleton, Chelmsford, or Andover depending on where they were located at the time. Dropping off the boards, going in to see the buyers, getting my posterior threatened again (what was it with posteriors back then?)  Getting more orders and yes, more artwork, and taking it back to Logan. Then back home. Unbelievably we were doing so much business with these two companies, that my company, did not want me getting any new business…can you imagine? Ah the good old days!

Or from late 80’s early 90’s: There is nothing so challenging than working for a company that is in Chapter 11; and as it turns out, heading to Chapter 7. I’ve done it twice. General Circuits was eventually bought by a 26-year old would-be Michael Milliken, who in true Milliken fashion, milked it dry and then destroyed, that once great company. I was the Director of sales and Marketing at the time and my biggest issue was, as you can imagine, was keeping my sales guys invested and motivated. The second biggest issue was hoping that my company credit card would work at business dinners and checking into hotels when I was on the road, more times than I care to count it did not.

The very worse day of that entire sordid experience Was the last day (which I didn’t know at the time) with the company, actually it was everyone’s last day with the company, came when I was leaving Rochester.  I had a middle seat on the flight back to Boston and wanted to change it, so I called the travel agency (remember them?) and asked if they could call the airline for me and change my seat. Here is what the nice lady at the travel agency told me. “Do not change anything, do not talk to anyone, just take your ticket, and go straight onto the plane; because, if you stop and talk to any airline official, they will pull your ticket, your credit card payment was just cancelled, in fact your company card has been cancelled!” So, I did what she said, and gladly sat in the middle seat all the way to Boston. Once I landed, my beeper (remember those) was going off like crazy. Every one of my sales guys was paging me. So, I had to find a pay phone (remember those?) to call each of my remaining sales guys, who all informed me their pay checks had bounced that afternoon and asking what I was going to do about it?  Oh, the good old days!

Maybe they weren’t as good as all that?  Ya think?

Oh, one last thing. Remember that Computervision buyer I talked about? Lou Cardillo? That crusty old buyer from the 80’s? Well, I spoke to him on the phone last Sunday because it was his 98th birthday. We’ve known each other for over 30 years, and he’s still my best friend. It’s only common sense.

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Book Recommendation:  Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit

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Book Recommendation

From: Dan Beaulieu

6/12/18

Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit

By Anne Bahr Thompson

Copyright 2018 Amacon

Price $ 27.95

Pages: 294 with index

I love this book and want every business leader to read it

The best way to get your people engaged to is give them a company with a mission that is bigger than the company. People, now more than ever want to believe in things that matter, causes that matter. They want to be proud of the company they work for.

A company with values is a company that will last, a company that has brand identity that is known for caring about customer yes, but also about people in general.

This is what this book is all about. Here are some examples:

Businesses that engrain social responsibility and corporate citizenship across their operations will create greater financial and social value over the long term.

Nothing has ever been truer and unfortunately rarer. Most of our companies are in business for themselves and don’t adhere to the values of social responsibility.

Ethical customs follow changing values and an evolving ethos. To remain relevant, businesses need to follow these changes closely and ensure they adapt to shifting needs and expectations of customers. Employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders.

Like Ikea, all brands need to be restless and consistent in how they present themselves; staying true to their purpose and personality while continuously evolving and raising their standards to reflect changing social values and expectations.

Now, I know what some of your thinking, “I can barely eke out a profit now. I can barely keep my employees engaged and with their focus on the job they are doing. How do you expect me to get involved in all of this greater good stuff?” Or, “this is all good for big companies, but I’m running a little five-million-dollar job shop how can I possibly do the kinds of things recommended in this book?”

I hear you, and as a consultant to many five and ten million-dollar companies, I sympathies. But I also know that getting your company and your team involved in doing good you will create a better company and you will develop a company that will perform better. The reason for that being that the same attributes and values required to have a “Do Good” company, are the same attributes and values required to have a well-run, profitable company filled with engaged, committed and passionate employees.

Here from then book are examples of how Brand Citizenship directly enhances a company:

  • Trust (don’t let me down) improves: Customer service, Product development, Marketing and Branding and Finance.
  • Enrichment (Enhance daily life) improves: Customer service, Customer relationship management, Communications, Product development, Digital technology.
  • Responsibility (behave fairly) improves: Human resources, Corporate responsibility, Sustainability, Supply chain management, Corporate communications/Reputation management, Finance, Legal compliance.
  • Community (Connect me) improves: Human resources, Corporate social responsibility, Digital technology, Market and Brand.
  • Contribution (make be bigger then I am) improves: Corporate social responsibility, Sustainability, Supply chain management, Product development, Reputation management, Marketing and brand comms.

In short, the message is, do all you can to drive your company to Do Good and you will have a good, nay great company in the end.

Don’t just read this book, study it, believe it, practice it and you will not help make a better company, but a better world as well.

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Dare To Be Great

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We are all so busy running our businesses that we seldom have time to do what really needs to be done to move our businesses forward, to take them from “good to great” to use that old but true cliché.

I know that all of my friends who own board shops are always so occupied keeping their heads above water that they seldom have time to do the things that would make their companies thrive, the things that could put them head and shoulders over the competition.

Look, I know we are all busy, I know that running a board shop or any business for that matter is much more difficult today than it has ever been, but please take the time to not only read these five things we should be doing them but try to make it a point to spend some designated time doing them. And if you do that, if you make it a regular practice to spend time working on these five things you will in the end become the outstanding company you truly deserve to be.

  1. Be an entrepreneur, spend time thinking about how you can change your company to better serve your customers. If you are a bare board shop then add design services, if you are a contract manufacturer add bare board services and offer the entire package. Just think how powerful it would be if you could take a project from schematic to assembly in one event, just think how much more powerful it would be if you could do it in less than a week! Think about that and figure out how to get it done. But that’s only one idea, there are many more out there. Spend some time thinking this way, explore the possibilities, and learn to say “yes” to them.
  2. Super customer service. I don’t just mean the normal reactive customer service that we all practice. I mean setting aside some time every single week to sit with your team and brain storm looking for ways to service your customers better than they have ever been serviced before, better than you ever have and better than your competition ever has. Be the LL Bean of the industry.
  3. Sparking your sales team. I mean really get them excited. Lately sales people have been the whipping boys of our industry. They are often the ones being blamed for lack of business. Let me ask you what is the point of that? You want your sales people out there feeling like super men and super women, you want them feeling invincible. Come up with ways to get the very best you can from them. Remember that a great manager is one who leads his team to greatness.
  4. Spend time with your insides sales/customer service people. These people are the face of your company. In the end, they are the final force determining what your customers think of your company. Spend time with them. Work with them to find ways to help them be the best they can be because in the end, your company is only as good as your customer service people. Find ways to get them excited about coming to work every day. Empower them, give them some financial parameters to use to satisfy your customers. Help them to be the customer service giants that you want them to be. Hell, make them want to be the customer service giants that you want them to be.
  5. Look to the future. That’s right, lift your head up, get your nose away from that grindstone long enough to take a cold clear look towards the future. Do all that you can to define the future and most importantly your place in that future. As the old saying goes if “you don’t determine your future someone else will”. Study the future, read everything you can from the trendsetters, listen to your customers and you sales people let them help you put an educated and informed ear to the ground to determine to the best of your ability what the future will be like. The develop your company’s strategy that will best take advantage of that future. Yes, it’s a great time to start thinking about tomorrow.

And one more thing, remember under promise and over deliver, and that is innovate, lead your people to think like innovators. Hold regular sessions where you study everything you do and work on making it better. Look at the way everyone in your industry does things and strive to do it better. I guarantee that if you and your team spend just one hour a week working on how you can do things better, you will in the end do things better.

I know there are only so many hours in the work day. And I know that we are all busy. But spending time doing these six things with the right attitude and dedication will take your company a long way up that road to perfection. It’s only common sense.

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Producing The Greatest Products Possible

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Laurene Powell Jobs was once quoted as saying that her husband Steve and legendary Apple designer Jony Ive would spend hours discussing corners, yes that’s right corners. I also read that Apple had an entire Quality department dedicated to boxes including a device that would check how those boxes would open and close. How many of us have a collection of empty I-Phone and I-Pod boxes just hanging around because they are too well designed to throw away? I don’t know about you, but I hate, hate, hate packaging that I have to destroy to open. There is a certain inelegance with having to tear and rip and destroy the box to get to my HP printer cartridge! Nobody is saving those boxes!

Jony Ive had this to say about design, “In some way by caring, we’re actually serving humanity. People might think it’s a stupid belief, but it’s a goal-it’s a contribution that we hope we can make, in some small way, to culture.”

“Apple’s great design secret may be avoiding insult. Their thoughtfulness is a sign of respect. Elegance in in objects is everybody’s right, and it shouldn’t cost more than ugliness. So much of our manufacturing environment testifies to carelessness.” Paola Antonelli, MOMA

Wow! Where am I going with this? Why am I talking about Apple and design and even quoting a curator at the MOMA? I bet that is the first time that MOMA has ever been mentioned in any article at any time, having to do with printed circuit board technology. You think?

Okay, here is my point. To be a great PCB fabricator, to be a great assembly company, or any manufacturing company, for that matter to be successful you have to pay attention to the customer. Not only pay attention to the customer but find ways to elate and delight that customer.

Just like Jobs and Ivy would talk about corners for hours on end, we have to spend time thinking about our customers and how we can find ways…elegant ways to delight them.

No, no don’t tell me that a PCB company is a job shop or that an assembly company is just putting someone else’s product together for them. No, don’t say that because when you do you are self-commoditizing. You are bringing your product down to the “anybody can do this” level and you and I both know this is not only untrue, but it also diminishes our companies and your products as well.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How many times have you purposely sat down with your team to discuss customer connections from the first call from your sales person to the final shipment of the product?
  • How many times have you envisioned your customer receiving your product, and experiencing opening your packaging?
  • Or better yet when was the last time you visited a customer’s receiving department to see what they do when they open your packages, so you’ll know exactly what that feels like?
  • How many times have you extended your vision beyond what you are building to where your product is going to end up. To envision what your product what your product is going into and how not only that end product will change the world but how your own product will contribute to that change?
  • Or going to the other side of the spectrum. How many times have you insulted the customer with your product? You did not send the right paperwork, or the coupons or the C of C’s or when the quantity in the box did not match the quantity on the invoice? These mistakes are not only a gross inconvenience to the customer who cannot clear your product out of receiving and onto the manufacturing floor, it is also an insult to that customer, sending him the message that you did not care enough to send the very best. Not to mention an indication of carelessness and sloppiness on your part as well.

The old adage take care of the little things and the big things will follow has never been truer than it is today. Yes, our customers are demanding, yes, they want more from us than ever before. But that is because they are getting the same high demands from their customers. They are trying to thrill their own customers and want you to thrill them in return.

Great craftsmen have been known to say that they leave a little piece of themselves, a little bit of their heart in every product they produce. They spend hours producing the best art, writing, sculptures, landscapes, quilts, and furniture so that they can share their passion with the receivers of their works. Why should it be different for us? Go ahead, sit down with your team once a week and talk to them about how your company can produce products that will delight and thrill your customers, products that will have the best of everyone in your company within them. It’s only common sense.

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Sometimes Playing It Safe Is The Wrong Decision

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I view business like this: If you are not growing, you are dying. If you are not constantly trying to find ways to make your company more attractive to your customers, you will die.

I personally know of some companies who have shrunk themselves out of business. They have literally cut costs to the point where there was just nothing left. In fact, they actually celebrated when the vice president of sales and marketing left because they were not going to have his expense any longer!

They did not even consider their circumstances. They did not even take a moment to think that their biggest challenge was not having enough sales, and that now with their top sales guy gone they did not have a chance in hell to survive. And the guy had left because he was tired of fighting with them, trying to get them to do the right thing. He was tired of asking them to consider at least trying to deliver their product on time…at least once in a while. The owners were just relieved that they would not have to argue with him any longer. Now they could do things their way, which was to ship boards when they finally finished them, not when they were actually due.

It should come as no surprise that that company is no longer with us.

I knew of another company that never met a pay cut they didn’t love. Every time there was the slightest dip in sales, bang, they went right for that payroll! When I mentioned to them that with yields of less than 60% they were in fact throwing out more dollars each month in scrap than their entire monthly payroll was worth, they did not want to hear it. The owner just shrugged his shoulders and said there was nothing they could do about that. He also said that the scrap was due to the people on the floor, so they were getting their just deserts by having their pay cut. Now that was a happy environment!

They are no longer with us either.

Then there was the company that spent so much time trying to save money that they went broke. Yes, they went Chapter 11 in the end. Once again it was a sad case of being penny wise and pound foolish. They would not do any preventative maintenance to keep their machines running, so of course their equipment was always breaking down. They never paid for service agreements on the equipment either, so when the equipment went down, the equipment stayed that way for days. They also hated paying their vendors on time, so you can just imagine the kind of service they got from them.

Are you depressed yet? You know, as I write these stories (and all of them true, though I wish they weren’t), I can’t help thinking what a joke it is that these are the same companies who rant and rave about China eating their lunch and the US government doing nothing about it. These are the same guys who complain about their competitors under pricing them to the point where they are losing most of their business. And, yes, they are the same guys who go out of business and learn exactly nothing from the entire experience; they take nothing away except bitterness about how the market is unfair, the industry is unfair, the US government is unfair and the world is certainly not fair, all the while adhering to their old philosophy of cutting costs at all costs.

Are you ready to use your exhaust pipe as a straw yet? No? Well, maybe this one will put you in the mood: I know of one company who was actually so unacquainted with customer service that after two better than usual months of sales (I’m not sure how that miracle happened), they decided to get back at the customers they did not like by firing them.

Yes, this is true. They sent out a letter to the customers they did not like, particularly the low-end, lower-volume customers, and gave them the old heave-ho. They told them they were sorry but they were just so busy with their good customers (yes, they said that) that they no longer wanted their business. This was a few years ago, so they also told these customers to come and get their artwork within five days or they would go in the dumpster out back.

Of course, things went to hell in a hand basket for them and in three months they were desperate to get that business back. So they sent their remaining sales guy out to bring back those spurned customers as soon as possible. What kind of reception do you think he got out there? Terrible, of course, and he was not able to find a single customer who was willing to return. The owners told him that if he was any kind of sales person he could have brought those customers back and fired him. They were out of business a few months later.

So in the end, remember this, if you don’t remember anything else:

You cannot cut your way out of trouble, and you cannot tell your problem customers to take a hike when you have a couple of good months. It’s only common sense.

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