Manufacturers and the Supply Chain: Investing in Customer Satisfaction & Addressing Complaints
Introduction: Customer Satisfaction & Addressing Complaints
Striving for excellence does not mean that mistakes will never be made. Manufacturers work with many moving parts both literally and figuratively and the supply chain lends itself to a spectrum of issues from quality and timeliness to how quickly customer questions are answered. Customer service is exceptionally important because the supply chain is so interconnected.
The following article covers:
1) Strategies for Preventing Mistakes/Complaints and
2) Best Practices for Addressing Customer Complaints.
The aforementioned are vital for success in the manufacturing world.
Strategies for Preventing Mistakes and Complaints
Employees & Staffing:
- Adequate compensation (you get what you pay for): Would your company purchase cheap equipment and expect it to function? Labor is no different. Companies should make sure their compensation is competitive or risk worker complacency.
- Thorough training: New employees should undergo a thorough training period and their continued employment should depend on passing a proficiency test that not only includes the basic tasks of their job but also understanding expectations of working at the company. A valid employment contract is fundamentally dependent on clear expectations and agreement.
- Perspective: Workers should not only understand their own roles but the roles of their coworkers. For example, welders who don’t understand the pressure account managers experience when products are late can psychologically divorce themselves from customer complaints. Consequently, the training period should explain the functions of each staff member to promote collaboration and develop a sense of perspective and compassion among workers.
- Support and Communication: Changes in management/staff, equipment, software, etc., are common and expected; therefore, continued training, support and communication from the top down are necessary to keep employees informed, proficient, and collaborative. It is important to note that people learn differently so having written, verbal and experiential opportunities to understand tasks, expectations, and changes is vital. A manufacturing facility can prevent mistakes through creative thinking.
- Avoid the Blame Shame Game: Blaming and shaming employees means they will be less likely to disclose a mistake before it gets to the customer and/or to identify where a mistake occurred if they think it will get a co-worker into trouble. Trust and transparency are best tools to prevent mistakes. This requires an objective, non-judgmental problem resolution.
Complacency, confusion, siloed thinking, shame and/or frustration are toxic and bleed into product quality and customer service. The above steps are investments in ensuring employees are proficient, accountable, collaborative and supported, which in turn are investments in customers and their needs.
- Pricing: When responding to RFP’s, be comprehensive and honest. Going back to the adage, “you get what you pay for,” companies that bid high should expect more demanding customers with higher expectations. However, low bidding companies should not assume that a low price means failing to meet contract expectations. When the customer clearly understands and agrees on the price quoted, they are less likely to complain later.
- Design Review: Failure to collaborate is often cited by customers as a source of contention. Engineers can help a customer keep costs low and/or improve a design. Engineers who are communicative, creative, and collaborative set the tone for the project. Consequently, soft skills should be among the hiring criteria for technical experts. Additionally, customer service should be part of engineer training and job expectations.
- Project Communication: Accurate pricing and supportive engineers are excellent ways to set a positive tone for a project; however, along the way issues may arise. Most importantly, if there is a delay, the supplier MUST provide adequate notice to the customer so they can plan accordingly. Allowing notice of delays or issues to slip an account manager’s mind or fall by the waist’s side is a surefire way to anger a customer.
- Answering Questions: Answering customer questions quickly is vital for preventing customer complaints. It doesn’t matter that a company’s account managers are excellent and on top of their game. Life can get in the way, it is therefore wise to invest in software that allows customers to mark the urgency of a question so it is flagged should it go unanswered for a specified period of time. Life can
Preventing customer complaints starts with respect for every role in a project. First, accept the fact that employee performance is a product of management and company policies. Understand that investments in compensation, training, communication, teamwork and ongoing support are investments in customers. Second, know that frustration is a product of confusion and lack of communication. Customer collaboration means walking through the project together, respecting customer obligations, and following/investing in the communication protocol.
Best Practices for Addressing Customer Complaints:
- Track Customer Complaints: Complaints are the most urgent of customer communications. Both internal staff and customers should be apprised of the company’s process for addressing customer complaints. A portal for customers that identifies the nature of the communication ensures questions and concerns are swiftly addressed.
- Do Not Take Complaints Personally: Understand that complaints stem from frustration, not spite. By approaching a complaint with empathy and problem solving, your customer will feel better, and in some cases, have a stronger sense of loyalty for how they were treated in a moment of frustration.
- Problem Solving Approach: As noted above, problem-solving is the best strategy for addressing a complaint. This skill cannot be understated. How many times have you heard a customer service representative tell you, “we don’t do that” or “we can’t do that” and felt your blood boil? Customer service representatives should use statements, such as “let me see what we can do for you” and “we will make this right” even in situations when the customer may be in error. Bottom line, don’t aggravate your own customers with shortsightedness or emphasis on your own limitations.
- Efficient Process for Rectifying a Problem: Resolving a problem can cause disruption in your work orders. A process that builds in potential interruptions prevents a mistake with one customer from becoming a delay or mistake with another. Develop a plan to make sure your workers, work stations and supplies can handle re-work on an order without compromising workflow.
In short, no matter what processes a company implements, mistakes and issues will inevitably arise. Preparation is the best way to manage complaints. Respect customers’ feelings and invest in staff training, products, and processes that are developed to handle issues efficiently and without panic.
The supply chain is forgiving as each company is at one point on the receiving end of a customer complaint. The frequency of complaints and strategies for addressing them is what differentiates a poor company from a great one.
- Investments in employees, products, and processes are investments in customer satisfaction.
- Communication, compassion, and creativity underlie effective customer service practices.
Written by: Aimee Sukol, JD, MA, MS Ed.
Meta Fab Outreach Specialist
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