Everyone is a Customer; Everyone is a Supplier


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We’ve all heard the cliché: What goes around, comes around. I’ve always felt that was especially true in our industry, with the frequent job changes people make—much accelerated in recent years but always a factor, since I can remember. In my own small sphere, a coworker at one company I worked for later became a customer of another of my employers, and this happened more than once—to different people. Another time, the tables were completely turned when a customer of my company became my supplier at another. So don’t burn your bridges! You never know when this will happen to you!

Which brings me to our topic this month: Who’s your customer? If you really think about it, it is more than that person who buys something from you or your company. Aren’t the tables turned when you request drawings from that “customer?” Aren’t you then the customer? We can also talk about internal customers—that person or department in the company who we supply parts or information to. It’s easy to see how it circles around so that we are all customers (and suppliers) of each other. OK, now we’re all confused, or clear, whichever the case may be.

In this month’s survey on the topic of who is the customer, the answers were not surprising. Here’s a sampling of those questions, and responses:

What percentage of customers work closely with you from design to assembly?

A disappointing 37% said less than a quarter of their customers while just 27% claimed over 75% of their customers worked closely with them. We hear about “lack of communication” often.

What is your customer satisfaction goal?

The most common answer was somewhere between 98% and 101%.

What are the most important attributes of customer service?

It ran the gamut from price, quality and fast response to customer service, customer satisfaction and frequent communication. A few people also answered, “being proactive to meet customer needs.”

What is the cost of not meeting a customer’s needs?

Predictably, the most common answer was lost customer or lost business (although someone did answer “I don’t know”). Perhaps the most important questions we asked had to do with feedback:

What type of feedback do you like?

Responses ranged from “thank you,” to testimonials, to learning customers’ roadmaps, to getting repeat business. One person answered, “Successful first builds are the most rewarding.”

How many of your customers provide feedback?

This resulted in an even distribution, meaning a quarter of our respondents said 25% or less of their customers provided it, another quarter said 25−50%, and so forth. So just about 25% of the respondents could be said to get a lot of feedback. Many said that good feedback or good ratings were most important, but if you think about it, what you really want is the bad, otherwise you won’t feel a need to improve.

So let’s see what our go to experts say on Who’s Your Customer? We talked with Dan Beaulieu and Sunstone’s Nolan Johnson along with The Right Approach’s Steve Williams (in a separate discussion) to get their thoughts on this question that is right up their alley. Not surprisingly, Dan and Nolan were totally focused on the external customer while Steve Williams considered the internal customer. Read more in our first two feature articles this month.

But Steve and Dan were just getting started. Steve came back with a short article on understanding your customer by expanding on the new ISO requirement of defining interested parties. Dan wrote his own column on “getting to know your customer” and also contributed a separate story on great customer service. Go Dan!

Several other columnists also found this topic intriguing. Omni PCB’s Tara Dunn used the metaphor of customers as guests invited to a party, and then went on to explain how this considerably changes one’s thinking as to who your customers really are (or perhaps who you want as customers).

Dan Feinberg (Fein-Line Associates) was inspired to jot down his thoughts on the topic. He looked at the question from the perspective of a person’s career goals, illustrating with his personal experiences. PNC’s Sam Sangani answered our topic question by pointing out that one sells much more than a product; the customer’s total experience with your company is what sets you apart from the many others with a product to sell.

To further illustrate that point, we have an interview by Dan Beaulieu with Millennium Circuits’ Dan Thau. The emphasis is all on customer service and consultative selling—being everything you can possibly be to your customer.

In other content this month, Elmatica’s Jan Pedersen gives us a column on the revisions underway to IPC 6012-DA, the Automotive Addendum. He discusses the four challenges the task group is currently facing, areas that need improvement. If you are in any way involved in automotive electronics then you probably need to be involved in this task group—which will be meeting at the upcoming IPC APEX EXPO.

Regular columnist Mike Carano of RBP Chemical Technology takes on basic surface preparation and cleaning. You must know the basics before moving on to high density and advanced circuitry.

Because this is a subject so near and dear to his heart, Dan Beaulieu has contributed a book recommendation that he felt was apropos to this month’s topic of customers, customer service and getting to know your customer.

The book he chose is one filled with practical advice for anyone at a customer-focused company. Check it out. IPC’s John Mitchell rounds out the issue with a discussion on skilled talent—yet another piece of the puzzle for a company to fit in. John builds a case for the need for skilled workers, something most companies are coming to grips with as the economy expands. The frustration is that there are plenty of people but actual, qualified workers, from production through professionals, are in short supply.

John tells us what steps our industry association is taking to address this problem. And we are into February; IPC APEX EXPO is at the end of the month. If you are going—as I urge you to, to participate in standards activities and general networking—please do stop by our booth and say hello. You all are our customers, so give us some feedback! Hope to see you there!

Patricia Goldman is managing editor of PCB007 Magazine. To contact Goldman, click here

To read the February issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.

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