With the pressures of managing day-to-day manufacturing, it can be easy to fall into the trap of neglecting the customer. But good customer service is vital to long-term success and manufacturers could learn a lot from the customer service industry, explains Manufacturing Advisor Matthew Ward.
Before entering the world of manufacturing, I worked in the hospitality industry as a restaurant supervisor and manager. Hospitality is entirely orientated around the customer’s needs and experience, which is something that I’ve found can often be overlooked in manufacturing.
Undoubtedly, people that work in and run manufacturing businesses are experts in their craft – they’re passionate about making their products and making them well. However, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of focusing exclusively on products and process, leaving minimal interaction with their customer base.
Just like hospitality, in manufacturing the customer is ultimately king. A product is only viable if there’s a demand for it. No matter how much you think you know about your product, you can always learn more from speaking to your customers.
The knock-on effect of getting it right, and getting it wrong
I recently did some work reviewing the processes of a manufacturing company, who produced a range of seasonal products. It quickly became apparent that each season’s range was based almost solely on the company’s taste and likes. It’s a successful company, but there were clearly identified opportunities for improvement. The problem was that there was very little consideration of market trends, and even less interaction with existing customers to ascertain what they would look for in future products.
The company ended up holding large amounts of redundant stock that couldn’t be sold, partly because sufficient demand may never have been there in the first place. The adverse knock-on effect was huge pressure on space in the warehouse and a lot of time, material and money wasted.
Another company that I worked with was a small engineering firm that had recently brought a new product to the market. After trialling and launching its first production run, the company actively reached out to its customers to find out what people liked or didn’t like about the product. Based on the feedback it received, the company was able to improve the product for the next batch and was eventually able to increase prices as a result.
The only difference between these two companies is that one prioritised interaction with its customers and the other didn’t.
Actively involving the customer in the product development/design stage can also result in a more efficient process. Often manufacturers make their products the way they were taught or the way they always have. This can mean that processes may include elements or components that the manufacturer may think is necessary, but if they took the time to speak with their current customers, they’d find that it adds little or no value. By removing these unnecessary elements from the process, you can cut out wasteful over-processing and improve overall efficiency.
Getting the right foundations in place
One of the barriers to good customer service in SME manufacturers is a lack of resource or time to devote to it, with few SMEs who have dedicated inhouse marketing or customer service team. Part of the problem here is that customer service is undervalued in the first place – it’s not seen as a good use of limited resources. However, there are significant benefits to be found.
Building solid foundations for good customer service doesn’t require a huge investment. You can start by reaching out to existing customers with a survey. Our Manufacturing Service can help you to develop effective satisfaction surveys, analyse the responses and use the findings to feedback into your product and service offering.
Surveys don’t just have to focus on your product. Customers can also provide valuable feedback on things like packaging, delivery and the whole experience from the point of order to receiving the product. For example, is your website fit for purpose? Is it easy to place an order? Would they order more if a different method was available? These are questions only your customer can answer.
Based on the feedback you receive, we can connect you to a range of other useful services within GC Business Growth Hub, from digital support for your website to new product development through our Innovation Service.
It’s more important than ever
Never has there been a more important time to build a closer relationship with your customers than right now. The near-universal impact of COVID-19 has been a loss of sales or customers, meaning retaining customers is now a priority for countless manufacturers across the country. Gathering and analysing customer feedback really is more important than ever, especially when considering the importance of product diversification for business resilience against the pandemic.
As a customer, paying for goods comes with an expectation of service as well. With many companies now looking at ways to cut costs, you may find that customers are looking for lower prices where previously they wouldn’t have. Defending your existing price structure could well depend on the level of customer service and engagement you offer.
To ensure you are doing everything you can do to retain customers and recover or grow your business, ask when was the last time you properly engaged with your customers to understand if and how you could improve your service? If this seems daunting, Growth Hub Manufacturing Advisors are on hand to support and ensure you are in the best position to consolidate your business in the post-pandemic world.
Made for Manufacturing
We now have a new support programme specifically for manufacturers, Made for Manufacturing. The programme is delivered entirely online, with virtual tours, expert speakers, peer-to-peer learning and one-to-one support from a specialist Manufacturing Advisor to put you in the best possible position for the future.
Matthew Ward , Manufacturing Advisor
Matt works with Manufacturing clients to help them achieve productivity gains. Experienced in project delivery, he supports businesses through the grant application process and helps them to deliver results.