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We are always talking about change and lauding those who welcome change and are ready to adapt, no matter the circumstances. But there is one quality in a company, and especially in a vendor, that is truly cherished: consistency. We love when a vendor’s products and services are consistently great and on time.
For instance, food chains, like McDonald’s, are successful because they are consistent. A Big Mac in Sheboygan should taste the same as one in Shanghai (this isn’t exactly true because the MacDonald’s in Shanghai makes the best Big Mac I’ve ever eaten, but for the sake of this column, I’ll stick with my example). And, for the most part, a Home Depot in Maine will have the same layout as one in Montana. We depend on companies to be the same, and we take comfort in that. All great brands, from Disney to L.L. Bean and Nordstrom, are known for their consistency.
When it comes to manufacturing, consistency is also the most important attribute a company can have. Customers want the same great products and services every time they do business with us; consistently deliver these, and you will be branded as a great company to work with. Of course, being consistently good is not easy. It’s hard, which is why not everybody can do it. Fabricating 10,000 PCBs so that the first board and the last board are exactly alike is an art that not everyone can perfect.
And when you think of the over 100 process steps that it takes to build a circuit board, and all of the things that can go wrong, you get a pretty clear picture of how hard it is to build a consistently perfect PCB. The same applies to PCB assembly services, not to mention PCB design and layout services. It takes tremendous discipline and foolproof process controls to turn out a consistently good product.
Therefore, we should all be striving to do just that if we want to succeed. That is why every great company has instituted programs to ensure that great products and services are consistently delivered to their customers. Whether they are quality programs, like ISO and AS9100, or operations programs, like Lean manufacturing or the 5S methodology, these programs are designed to build consistency into the operations processes. These are all great programs, and they work if the company implements them with discipline and (yes) consistency.
Now, let’s talk about customer service. Although some trainers and experts tell me that these programs sometimes apply to customer service, they do not provide a complete solution to providing consistently great customer service. The same disciplines that apply to performing a task the same way over and over again—or a piece of equipment, such as an LDI, which can consistently guarantee that the image on the ten-thousandth PCB will be as clear, concise, and accurate as the first piece imaged—do not apply to customer service.
Customer service cannot be objectively controlled for the simple fact that the human factor is involved. It can be argued that if the LDI operator is in a bad mood it will not affect the consistency of the image put out by that equipment. However, if a customer service rep is in a bad mood, it will certainly affect the level of customer service that is delivered. That human element makes customer service a subjective rather than an objective discipline.
So, what can you do? Great customer service is a cultural thing, so companies must develop a great customer service culture. In this atmosphere, the norm is delivering great and consistent customer service. As is true with everything in life, we are the product of the environment around us. And if that environment in all levels of the organization is customer-focused and customer-oriented, so will the employees and company.
This is especially true when it comes to top management. We should always remember that what a company’s managers say and do will reflect exponentially on their associates. If you are a company president who loves customers and walks the walk and talks the talk, then the entire organization will follow suit. However, if you are a company leader who treats customers like they are out to get you and see them as the enemy, the people in your organization will follow suit and treat your customers accordingly, which isn’t good.
It all comes down to a simple rule, which we sometimes tend to forget. The key to consistent customer service is to treat your customers as you want to be treated. And that rule applies to everyone in the company, from the owner to the customer service people.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.