Putting Your Customers' Needs First
Putting Your Customers’ Needs First A Fifty-Year Journey
By Woodson J. Savage III
On September 15, 2010, the Pointy-Haired Boss told Dilbert that
"OUR HIGHEST PRIORITY IS SATISFYING OUR CUSTOMERS... EXCEPT WHEN IT IS HARD... OR UNPROFITABLE... OR WE'RE BUSY."
How Did I Become a Customer Advocate?
I graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a degree in Engineering Physics in June of 1966. I interviewed numerous companies and received several offers of employment, but I elected to join Westinghouse Electric in Pittsburgh, PA because they offered their graduates the opportunity to take assignments at different locations before committing to a specific job. After taking several interesting assignments, I elected to take a job in Marketing/Sales at the Semiconductor Division in Youngwood, PA (about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh). This was my first “real job”; one morning after only a couple of days on the job I got a message to go to the Marketing Manager’s office. I couldn’t imagine why he wanted to see me as I had not been there long enough to “screw anything up yet”; in fact, I was still trying to master the phone system! When I entered his office, he was looking at my expense report that I had submitted. Keith Sueker, the Marketing Manager said, “You have 91¢ here for your breakfast … you are going to make all of us look bad”! I quickly explained that I was not much of a breakfast person and I only had orange juice and a doughnut. He laughed…this was his way of welcoming me to the Westinghouse family at the Semiconductor Division. I would go on to hold jobs in Interunit Sales, Thyristor Sales, Assembly Product Sales, Customer Service, Market Research and Marketing Communications. While working there, I also attained my MBA at the University of Pittsburgh’s first ever Executive MBA Program (EMBA I). Keith Sueker had earlier left Westinghouse to join Robicon, Inc. (a major manufacturer of solid-state drives and one of our key customers) as their V.P. of Engineering. One day in my Marketing Communications office, the phone rang, and I answered it…it was Keith on the line. Keith said he had just recently gotten a mailer from Westinghouse Semiconductor that features images of our products and some of the applications that they serve. He asked who was responsible for creating this mailing (as if he did not already know) … I replied that I was. His response to me was that this information was of NO USE to him as a CUSTOMER because it did not HELP HIM do his job and it did NOTHING for Westinghouse either. I could hear a thumping sound over the phone as he dumped the mailer into his wastepaper can and then he promptly terminated the call. I am retired now some 50 years later. A couple of years ago, I attempted to reach Keith to thank him for calling me on that fateful day…but unfortunately all I could do was leave a written message on his online obituary. You see…I wanted to thank him for taking the time to tell me (years ago) that my purpose was to ALWAYS put the CUSTOMERS’ NEEDS FIRST! From that day forward…I DID!
The Role of Corporate America…
Most public companies identify three different
constituencies that they must serve:
• • •
There is no denying that for most public companies…achieving good financial results in their quarterly and annual reports to Wall Street is what it’s all about. It is obvious to even the most casual employee that decisions being made within an organization are frequently impacted by current, upcoming financial events…month end, quarter close, year-end. Bonuses are almost always linked directly to financial performance enhancements (whether the individual contributes directly to their attainment or not). Top executives base pay is often “small potatoes” compared to their potential bonus compensation if they can make the company grow financially! Stock options and other related forms of compensation offer little incentive to management eligible employees if their company’s stock price does not rise; therefore, their total focus (and consequently, the company focus) becomes one of how to make the company more profitable in the short term. The best interest of the employees and the best interest of the customers are not always preserved or even considered in this scenario. The almighty buck rules! Gone are the days when “little old ladies” bought shares of IBM, Xerox, Polaroid, Dell, Intel, Microsoft, etc. and stuck them in their lock boxes for twenty years…only to realize that stock in those little unknown startup companies had suddenly made them rich. Today, retirement funds and unions, etc. control the vast majority of stock activity…not the little individual investor. Companies that used to have thousands of individual investors now may only have a handful of major fund investors who effectively have a “controlling interest” in the company. Often corporate investors who wish to control or takeover a company do not always have the employees’ or customers’ interests at heart. As an employee…do you really know what stocks or companies your IRA retirement fund is invested in? You might know the name(s) of the fund…but do you really know the names of the companies…probably not! When the stock market takes a “nose dive”, do you worry about employees at those companies getting laid off, about their jobs being sent off-shore, about factories closing and local communities losing a major source of tax revenue not to mention community support. No…most of us are simply worried that our investments have lost money. You see…in the end…we are no different than those big, bad investors who only buy and sell in the market place to make a buck…most of them have no interest or concern in the outcome of the companies’ employees, the quality of the products being produced or what impact it might
have on their customers being served. Selfishly or not, these big investors’ main interest as well as our main interest as individual retirement fund investors is in making a buck! Unfortunately, the WorldCom’s, Tyco’s, the Enron’s of the world represent the ugly extreme cases of what can go wrong in an “investor focused” company if one allows greed, personal ego, “cooking the books” and “bending the rules” dictate the growth and direction of the company no matter how well intended the purpose.
Sounds great to have a company built around the employee’s best interests doesn’t it? Good wages, job security, great promotion opportunities, guarantee of a lifetime job, superb medical and disability benefits, extended paid vacations with family leave options plus a great savings and retirement plan … what’s not to like about this deal! The problem is there must be a sustainable business to finance these “employee benefits”. Unless you are working for the government, it is unlikely that you will encounter this lifetime dream. Jobs are usually built around a business model whereby certain goods and/or services are provided to a consuming public. The business might be geared to serve consumers directly or to serve other companies’ needs. In either case, the business’s existence usually depends upon their ability to serve their customers’ needs...not their own self-interests. Most large employers tend to be publicly owned and thus are subject to shareholders’ needs and interest … which usually relate to earning money proportional to their investment in the subject company…either in ever increasing stock valuations and/or regularly paid dividends. Privately owned companies and partnerships and sole proprietor companies also have financial obligations to their respective ownership groups. Perhaps more importantly, companies must have a purpose and a masterplan to survive much less thrive in a competitive environment. A quality product or service available at a reasonable price provided in a timely manner is usually a good starting point. Good, well-trained employees who are motivated to provide good service are an essential part of the equation for any good business to be successful in the long-term. You can have the best compensated and motivated employees in the world, but you better also be offering competitive products and/or services that are in demand in the marketplace or you will not be in business very long.
Most companies were founded to provide a specific need in the marketplace…whether a product or service. As companies grow, they usually enhance and expand their offerings for their original target audience, modify or expand their original offerings for a different set of customers or even create new products and/or services for a totally different group of customers.
It is that Customer Need or Focus that drives their business model. How successful they are at fulfilling that need will usually determine how successful they will be as a company. It takes dedicated employees to run a company successfully and companies must also satisfy their owners or stockholders interests to maintain a company over the long term. Some companies lose sight of the reason they were created in the first place. Yes…the owners and/or shareholders want to make money and be successful but if you are not taking good care of your employees who make these products and/or services available and not keeping up with taking care of your customers’ needs with continual improvements in your product/service offerings at competitive prices … you will likely lose market share and ultimately fail at satisfying your customers’ needs. The raging debate in corporate America is whether this company or that company is the best place to work, or whether they provide the best shareholder value or whether they are a leader within their industry in serving their customers' needs. • Is your company EMPLOYEE focused...are they consistently ranked among the Top 100 companies to work for in America? Probably not. • Is your company CUSTOMER focused...are they the leader in their industry in all that they do? Unlikely. • Does your company provide maximum SHAREHOLDER value compared to your major competitors and to other peer groups within your industry? Maybe...maybe not. Sometimes it seems like a big "tug of war"... does the HR (Human Resources) Department really represent the Employee? Is Marketing and Sales always committed to serving the Customers' best interests? Are the Financial folks and Operations personnel always maximizing Shareholder value? When PUSH comes to SHOVE ... which one of these sides of the triangle do most companies end up supporting? The overriding answer from most people (not surprisingly) would be working to enhance Shareholder Value. You don't have to look much beyond the compensation packages of most top executives in corporate America to determine where their focus lies. The truth is that the best companies have a combination of all three of these traits to be successful over the long term. Without good employees, you cannot implement plans and provide services to build customer loyalty. If a company is not profitable, it is of little value to the customer or the employee if it goes out of business. It takes a balanced effort to achieve superior results over time. The moral of this story is that it takes all three elements to be a successful company. What this book will attempt to show is that a company can excel at being customer focused without sacrificing their financial goals in maximizing shareholder value or their goals in providing their employees with a secure and productive work environment. What is YOUR Company’s Focus?
How to Create a Customer-focused Company…
Companies invariably make most of their business decisions exclusively based on “dollars and cents” analysis. It’s easy…it’s the traditional way…and besides we have lots of accounting folks to help us determine the best course of action. Math is a great science—everything is either black or white…no real gray area. Either the numbers support the stated goal, or they don’t. It is much easier to sell an idea by the numbers than to sell an unproven concept or program…the numbers makes us “feel good” about the project…helps us to accept an unproven idea or undertaking that we are not too familiar with or don’t understand or don’t have the time to deal with right now. All major capital expenditures go through “rigorous” financial reviews before they are submitted for management approval. Note: It is too bad that in many companies…those same projects never get a post-audit review to see if they really met the intended financial goals in the timetable that was rendered at the beginning of the project. Everyone has heard the term “Environmental Impact Statement”. It is usually associated with some major highway project or building project that is going to wipeout some swampland somewhere and the builder must set aside some funds or redevelop another swampland somewhere else to replace the one that is about to become a parking lot! Well that is where I got the idea for a Customer Impact Statement that should accompany every major project undertaken within a company. The Customer Impact Statement is a one-page document that simply describes how this great new proposed project is going to benefit our customers: o $5M projected annual savings to close a regional warehouse o $1M advertising campaign to promote a new product o $500K product cost reduction project o Six-week IT project to develop an HR employee self-enrollment benefit system When the advocate for a project now must “justify” the project not just on its financial merits, but also on how his/her project can help better serve the customer…you have a whole new set of issues to address. There is never enough money to go around to support all the projects that everyone wants to accomplish in a company…not to mention the time and other resources to support them. Customer Impact Approach o $250K to refurbish the board room
Thus, when you “throw-in” the customer impact factor…you now are forced to rank or at least consider how the proposed project will benefit the customer (directly or indirectly). That is not to suggest that every project will ALWAYS benefit the customer (nor that it should), but that before management accepts the project, they, at least, have the benefit of knowing that they are turning down other projects in the “pipeline” that conceivable offer greater or more direct benefits to the customer. Some people may believe that this is a very subjective methodology that could become easily abused…and they are right…if you allow it. However, there are many good business propositions with sound customer paybacks that go begging for support due to other internal priorities. When companies become “internally focused”, they have a bad tendency to spend excessive time, effort and money on developing internal solutions to issues that do little or nothing to better serve their customers’ needs. The Customer Impact Statement forces the company to take a “gut check” to make sure that what they are preparing to approve is in the best interests of the company as well as in the best interests of their customers. Yes…a customer impact statement needs to undergo the same post-audit analysis as its financial counterpart. Did the project finish “on-time” within the prescribed budget and did it achieve the intended end-result and customer benefit(s) (if applicable) as stated. The Evolution of My Customer Focused Background It might be beneficial to explore some of the ways that you can establish a more customer focused business or organization. For this purpose, I am going to take you on a trip down memory lane of how my experiences in serving customers’ needs evolved over the years. My goal here is not to provide you with a roadmap of what to do, or to try to tell you which activities or events that you should attempt to duplicate or replicate, but to provide you with some examples of things that you need to look for in your own organization or business that might lead you to providing better service for your customers. Think “outside of the box” and evaluate the KEY things you do every day in your business and then see how you might “enhance these activities or services to make your customers’ jobs easier and make your employees more productive in serving their needs. Ultimately, if you are successful in this endeavor, your shareholders and investors will benefit as well.
My College Years…
This historical road trip begins with my college days at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. While I was pursuing a B.S. degree in Engineering Physics, I was also exploring many extracurricular activities. I elected not to join a fraternity but being a very independent- minded person, I did join the Independent Students Association (ISA) where I would one day
become its President. What intrigued me about ISA was it provided a legitimate foundation base within the UTK structure from which students could create various campus activities for the benefit of the independent students which represented most of the student population.
Here are some of the activities that ISA sponsored:
• Women’s Karate Self-Defense Course – today, this is a normal offering at many colleges and universities, but I can assure you that this type of program was a rarity in the mid- 1960’s! • Xerox/Test File Service – In the early 1960’s, the first 914 Xerox copiers had just been introduced. The only student accessible copier at UTK was located at the library which was not centrally located. Fortunately, ISA had its office on the 2 nd floor of the Student Center and we leased a 914 copier from Xerox for student use. It was so big, it barely fit through the door. We charged students 2¢ a page for this service. Later, we established a test file service whereby we collected tests from several thousand UTK courses and catalogued them by Subject/Year/Professor; students were charged 10¢ a page for making copies of the test questions. This service proved invaluable to students in that they could more easily learn what type of test questions a professor gave as well as the subject matter that the teacher felt was most important to master in the course. This effort was one of the most successful ventures ever introduced by ISA. • UT Pic-A-Pair Computer Dance —ISA was one of the very first organizations in the U.S. to offer students a computer match-making service. We sponsored an annual dance event beginning in February 1965 where students filled out 13-page questionnaires which were then computer processed at UT; this event garnered considerable national news coverage from both UPI and AP News Services. Matches were posted at the Student Center on the week prior to the dance; men were then responsible to contact their matched dates and ask them to the dance. Today, online dating is now a socially accepted and booming multibillion dollar business that continues to grow. • Campus Politics – under the USO banner (United Students Organization), the Independent Students Association (ISA), the International Club, various Dormitory Associations along with a few fraternities and sororities managed to win 56 of 60 Student Government Association (SGA) positions in 1965 with a historic record turnout of independent students on election day. The following year, Phil Moffitt, the President of ISA, also ran under the USO banner and was elected President of SGA at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville.
While at the University of Tennessee, I did not limit my formal course training to Engineering Physics …
• Dale Carnegie Course – “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was taught to some thirty U.T. students in Knoxville, TN in 1966; it was one of the first times this course was ever specifically offered to college students. I was fortunate enough to be a member of that class. This course has been attended by over 8 million people and his book, first published in
1936, has sold over 30 million copies. Warren Buffett took the Dale Carnegie course "How to Win Friends and Influence People" when he was 20 years old, and to this day has the diploma in his office. Good advice never goes “out of style”. Serving our customers’ needs requires that we can influence others to join in our campaign to always put the customers’ needs first. Some of my associates might question whether I ever mastered the course as it relates to “How to Win Friends” but few will argue with the fact that I learned “How to Influence People”!
My First Company…
If you happened to miss reading the one-page Preface to this book, I suggest you stop and read it now. It will provide a brief introduction to my first real job at Westinghouse Electric Corporation and why I ultimately would become a Customer Advocate for the rest of my life! Little did I realize at the time, but my thirteen years at Westinghouse Semiconductor Division would serve me well as the foundation of serving the customers needs for the remainder of my workplace career. departments…Engineering, Purchasing, Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, Finance, etc., but Westinghouse Semiconductor Division was open to experimentation. At the time, I was in Product Marketing responsible for low and medium power thyristor sales. What the company elected to do was to create teams consisting of a product marketing person, a customer service representative and an application engineer. Each team of three covered a specific product area and sat together as a team. On my team, the Customer Service Rep sat on my left and the Application Engineer sat on my right. While we each still reported to our respective functional department managers, daily we worked and interacted with customers as a team. It did not matter which one of us the customer contacted because we could handle virtually any situation or question the customer had because we could more easily back each other up as we were physically sitting together as a team. We would frequently jump in on conference calls to address any issue that might require multiple functions to assist the customer or to resolve a problem. • Employee Involvement – At the time, I was responsible for Assembly Sales Product Marketing (rectifiers and/or thyristors mounted on heatsinks in various electrical configurations); we had an elderly lady, Emily, on our assembly production line; she could build anything from a simple schematic drawing; she would also be assigned to build the most complex jobs for our customers. I asked the Manufacturing floor supervisor one day if I might be allowed to give the production workers an overview of our assembly sales and the customers and applications we served. I showed them slides of many of our customer sites and discussed the various applications that our products (that they built) were used in. At the end of my presentation, Emily and the other production workers thanked me profusely for • Teamwork in the Workplace – Most companies are organized around functional
taking the time to explain to them where and how the products they made were used in the end applications by our customers. They stated that in all their years of employment, no one had ever actually sat down with them and taken the time to do this. From that time forward, I would always make it a point to make sure that our production personnel had a good understanding of how our products were used by our customers as well as the important role they had in making sure that that we delivered quality products on-time for our customers. As a side benefit, anytime I had a special job or a rush customer order, it always got special attention from Emily and the other ladies on the production line! One of my most rewarding jobs at Westinghouse was as Manager of Marketing Communications. This job afforded me the opportunity to perform a variety of different tasks which greatly augmented my recently acquired product knowledge. • Sales Leads – This was the early 1970’s; there were no personal computers, no internet, no social media, no email. You had “snail mail” and telephones. Telexes were still used as a means of communication to our remote sales offices. When customers and prospects wanted information about a company’s products, they would usually fill out “bingo cards” or postage paid reply cards in various monthly trade journals to request info on a product release or advertisement they saw in the magazine; this process could often take up to a month to go through all the various steps: 1. Trade publication received the postage-paid request card from the inquirer 2. Trade publication key punches data into their computer and generates the inquiry listing which they then mail to the manufacturer who had the ad/product release 3. Manufacturer then sends out the requested info to the inquirer and the smart manufacturers add the new inquiry names to their mailing list for future follow-up with their sales department and for future mailings 4. The inquirer finally receives their requested information In a good year, we would generate as many as 50,000 sales leads at our relative small Westinghouse Division. We would quickly send out the requested product or literature along with our condensed product catalog, a cover letter and a postage-paid card to sign-up for our mailing list for future communications based on the customer’s specific product or application interests. This system was the foundation of our marketing communications efforts. • Customer Newsletters – Most successful companies depend on repeat business; therefore, it is essential that they build a lasting relationship with their prospects and customers. At Westinghouse Semiconductor, we generated a quarterly newsletter that went to our entire customer mailing list. The mission of this newsletter was to inform the reader about industry news, company news, new products, new applications, user tips, etc.; it always contained a message from our Division General Manager. It was not intended as a “hard-sell” promotion vehicle but more a means to keep our customers and prospects aware of current activities.
• Employee Newsletters – Employees are sometimes “an after-thought” in many companies when it comes marketing and sales functions, but we felt that employee communications should be taken just as seriously as communications to our customers; thus, we also published a quarterly employee newsletter to every single employee. This was NOT an HR or Human Resource authored document but generated by Marketing Communications for the expressed purposes of sharing our marketing and sales efforts about our customers with each employee. While not every employee’s job will be in direct contact with a customer or prospect, they will at least indirectly impact your company’s ability to serve the customer or to make a good impression on them. The more your employees know and understand your customers…the better position they will be in to serve their needs! company as well as for its products and services is to be featured in the various trade journals or publications that serve your industry. John DeFazio, my Marketing Communications mentor and friend at Westinghouse taught me many things, but this was one of the most important ones. Build and maintain a relationship with the trade press; we would take annual tours across the U.S. every year to the major publishers … McGraw-Hill, Penton, Cahners, IEEE, etc We would visit their editorial department, their creative/art departments and, of course, their advertising departments. The key was to become acquainted with their personnel, get a copy of their annual editorial calendar so you would know what they monthly features would be that they are planning so you can dove tail your product/service offering to accommodate THEIR needs as well as YOURS! It pays to spend time with their creative people because these publications are always looking for ways to make their publication stand out with their readership. I was a one-time author myself…my article made the cover of EDN Magazine on August 5, 1974. My six-page article “How to get the most out of high-powered rectifiers and SCR’s” made the cover for TWO reasons: 1) Spectacular photograph for the cover 2) Good general interest article of semiconductors. As my first and only article garnered the cover of their magazine, I promptly retired from writing magazine articles as my career could only go downhill from here! • Trade Journal Articles – One of the most powerful ways to get recognition for your
When I was Marketing Communications Manager, the Application Engineering manager came up to me one day complaining that his engineers were spending more time on my marketing communications projects than they were on
their regular work assignments. I said that sounded good to me! I said the reason for that is that I can give them two things that you cannot: 1) I pay them $50 per page for every article they get published in a trade magazine (they already get your pay so my pay to them is simply a bonus for them (you need to remember that in the mid-1970’s that $750 or $800 per month was a regular salary back then) 2) they get the “prestige” and “recognition” of being published in a national
magazine which is again something that you cannot give them. Providing incentives to key employees to help promote your products and services can make good business sense!
• Tradeshow/Conference Activities – Every industry tends to have annual tradeshows and conferences. While most all major companies tend to participate in them in some form or fashion, I would suggest that some companies could use them more effectively as a tool to attract new business as well as to entertain and inform existing customers. Hospitality Suites can be much more than just a place to get a drink! I was fortunate enough to inherit a Westinghouse tradition in my job as Marketing Communications manager. Our suite became a regular meeting place for conference attendees and their wives after the daily sessions, to meet other couples going out to dinner or as a place to meet up after the dinner meal. We would usually feature a small band for background music, draft beer on tap and limited liquor. Each year we would handout complimentary glass beer mugs with a unique logo for that year. One year we even featured an induction heated electric air popcorn popper built using our semiconductors! It was a great place for our sales personnel to “meet and greet” customers. Lunch Seminars – people attending conferences and seminars have to eat; usually grabbing lunch on the run is not very appetizing and is rather expensive for what you get. This can be an excellent opportunity for your company to sponsor a luncheon affiliated with the conference or tradeshow (on-site if possible). You simply promote and event and have customers and prospects register to attend for free; they get a FREE lunch and you get 30 minutes of their undivided attention to promote your applications, products and services to them. A good deal for both parties! • Walt Disney World Experience – One of our annual industry conferences happened to be held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fl. General Electric was one of our major competitors to Westinghouse Electric in the semiconductor business, but an industry conference is a great place to interact with your competition on a legitimate basis. Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress attraction sponsored by the General Electric Company opened at Walt Disney World in 1975. As part of our industry conference, we had the unusual opportunity at that time to see the “inner workings” of Walt Disney World…a grand tour of what really goes on behind the scenes of the public part! We got to see rooms full of costumes and tunnels and people scurrying about; we were treated to a seminar on how they approach serving their customers. Every person is a performer…when they are in the public eye…they are on stage! Whether they are a food worker, a hotel desk clerk or Mickey Mouse, they are on stage performing for the public. Why do you think grounds are spotless, why there is never a “burned-out light bulb” to be found, why everything is precisely how you would imagine a “Magic Kingdom” to be? They work around the clock when the park is closed to make sure all of the surroundings are kept in immaculate condition. Ever go somewhere and the restaurant or business ONLY opens promptly at 11AM or whatever time…so you are ten minutes early and you must sit out in your car waiting;
meanwhile the business staff are sitting inside doing nothing! How is that for a favorable impression? I don’t even wear a watch, but I am NEVER late for an appointment; in fact, I am usually early! I have never been refused entry at Walt Disney World or Disneyland even if I arrived a little early…they have PLANNED their schedule to make sure their guests have a “great customer experience” … and that includes getting into the park early if you happen to arrive a few minutes early! It is the little things in life that can make a big difference in how your customers perceive your business. • User’s Manual/Databook – In our age of electronics and the Internet, it is hard to fathom when people had to rely on manual filing systems for retrieving product and application data but that is how it used to be back in the “dark ages”. Industry catalog data was produced on individual product sheets which were numbered and kept in a binder. Companies used to have literature libraries and they employed librarians to receive, index and maintain suppliers’ catalog data for their employees to use when specifying or designing products. In fact, Westinghouse’s entire product catalog was said to be about six feet long if mounted in a single reading file; the Semiconductor section was assigned to the 54-000 series of numbers! Back in the 1970’s, Texas Instrument and Motorola both produced large single book catalogs for their Integrated Circuits that you could buy from Radio Shack, but no one in the discrete semiconductor business had tackled assembling all of their technical data into a single book. Things were about to change at Westinghouse Semiconductor; in 1978 at our National Sales Meeting in Seven Springs, PA (30 miles from our Youngwood, PA plant), I handed out our new Westinghouse Power Semiconductor User’s Manual and Data Book. It became an instant hit with our sales force and our customers.
Everything you ever wanted to know about Power Semiconductors – but were reluctant to ask! Ideal for all users of power semiconductors regardless of job function, technical background and experience level…two books in one, 8 ½ x11 format, easy to read, fully indexed, and 432 pages. We sold the book back then for $6.50 with free shipping; of course, we sent our existing customers FREE copies for their use! The Westinghouse Printing Division was not exactly overjoyed as this book was the “beginning of the end” for the old catalog binder system at Westinghouse.
• National Sales Meeting – Annual National Sales meetings are a very important vehicle to get in sync with your sales team and to introduce major new products and marketing initiatives for the coming year. The Semiconductor Division had always held their annual sales meetings in or around Youngwood, PA because they could host plant tours and all the manufacturing and operations people could participate as needed. It was time to “think
outside of the box” again; our sales force (about 35 people) were located all over the U.S. so technically you could hold the sales meeting in any location as far as the field sales travel expense was concerned. What I proposed doing was holding the meeting over the weekend as opposed to just during the work week; my managers said that the salesmen’s wives would not approve of them being away from them on the weekend and my reply was … they will if the wives are being invited to the sales meeting as well! After considerable discussion and debate, I won!
Here is what we ended up doing:
1. Place: Del Coronado Hotel – San Diego, CA 2. Dinner/Dance in Del Coronado Hotel Ballroom 3. Joint Trip to Jai Lai game in Tijuana, Mexico 4. Joint Sales Meeting Session where wives joined their husbands at sales meeting 5. Shopping trip for wives to La Jolla, CA 6. $100 Gift Certificate for each family for Hotel Gift Shops What did we get out of this first ever joint sales meeting? It is important to understand that we had a very stable sales force with years of experience working for the Semiconductor Division. The wives knew many of the salesmen by name, but, of course, had never met them.
Now, suddenly, they not only met the people that their husbands or spouses worked with, but they also met and became friends with their wives. You had people who had worked for 20 years that had never met the folks they worked with. We had an outstanding sales meeting that ended up costing little more than if we had held the meeting during the week at our headquarters plant location. But what we gained in relationship building is hard to put into words. In the end, the wives were delighted to have been invited and made an integral part of this event and they never ever let their husbands forget it either! When are we going again honey!
My Second Company…
While at Westinghouse, I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by my company to attend the first ever Executive MBA program at the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation from this two-year weekend program and serving several years as Marketing Communications Manager, I grew restless for a new challenge and a new opportunity. I was offered a job with Ranco Controls in Columbus, OH as their Manager of Marketing Services which included responsibilities for Customer Service, Market Research and Marketing Communications. Ranco was one of the early inventors of air conditioning and refrigeration thermostats; at the time, they made controls for the Automotive, Comfort conditioning, Home Appliance ad Commercial/Industrial markets. I would end up spending ten years here honing my skills in serving customers and learning more about how companies functioned in corporate America.
• RANCO Capability Brochure – While Ranco was an old-line, global company, its product
focus was narrow in most of the industries and markets that it served; thus, it was desirable to promote the company’s capabilities to all its customers to reinforce and remind them of why Ranco was a good vendor partner. A sixteen-page booklet “Ranco – The controls behind your good life” was created to do just that. It covered the global nature of the company, the breadth of the product line, various applications, historic industry firsts, manufacturing technology story, employee commitment to making and developing quality products, responsiveness to customer needs and a total commitment to service.
• 75 th Anniversary – Key anniversaries are an important part of a company’s culture as they mark major milestones in the life of a company as well as in the lives of the employees who make and provide the company’s products and/or services. I oversaw the development of “The Story of Ranco” which was written to document the company’s history as well as a tribute to the employees that made the company possible. The book tells the story of E.C. Raney, the company founder and inventor; the early years of the company, the company’s rise to world leadership in the controls industry, the company’s firsts, the company’s products
as well as a look to the future.
You need to experience a major celebration like Ranco’s 75 th (1913-1988) to fully appreciate its significance. To see three generations of an employees’ families who have worked at the same company and many times the same plant location is quite remarkable.
• Cross Reference Litigation – Defending a company’s corporate assets might not be thought of as a customer benefit but it is essential that a company can defend and preserve its patents and intellectual property rights if they are to survive to serve the customers’ best interests. Ranco entered the replacement Wholesale market soon after manufacturing their first control in 1929. Ranco published its first major cross reference in 1949 with successive updates and expansions over the years. Several major controls companies attempted to challenge the origination of Ranco’s various cross reference guides but were unsuccessful in the courts as all litigation was resolved in Ranco’s favor. The court noted that our use of the newly introduced VisiCalc spreadsheet enabled us to display to the court a continuous trail of part numbers and model numbers for each manufacturer via each succeeding issue of our cross- reference guides (each of which were protected under applicable copyright laws) and was instrumental in deciding these cases in Ranco’s favor. • Systems or Solutions – In the ten years I was employed by Ranco Controls, they changed their order entry and shipping systems three times! On the last occasion, Ranco purchased all 21 modules of the newly introduced COPICS from IBM; during a February training session in Chicago, I asked the IBM instructor how many modules of COPICS did the typical customer buy when they launched a conversion to COPICS…his answer was four or five modules. Obviously, our local Ohio IBM sales rep made his bonus for the year and must have gotten promoted as we never saw him again! I later stated to Ranco management that continually migrating to different computer systems was of little value for the company and even less value for the customer. Systems are often sold as “solutions” to what ails a company when there are far more basic issues that need to be addressed.
My Third Company…
I was soon searching for a third company as I had been offered a position at Ranco running their Logistics and Planning operations, but I did not feel this was a “good fit” for what I wanted to do for the rest of my career. Recognizing that it would be unlikely for me to find a job that encompasses Marketing Communications, Market Research and Customer Service, I elected to take a job running Customer Service in Memphis, TN at American Electric. While I ended up taking a drastic cut in pay, this change in employment would turn out to be an excellent career move.
• Signature Service -- When I joined American Electric in February 1990, they had just embarked on a bold new initiative called Signature Service . As their new Customer Service Manager, I would soon learn that part of my job would be developing the internal systems necessary to support this new initiative. At the time American Electric was owned by Forstmann, Little & Co ., a private equity firm, specializing in leveraged buyouts (LBOs). At its peak in the late 1990s, Forstmann Little was among the largest private equity firms globally. This was perhaps a good thing as American Electric , at the time, was not held to the same standards as a public company focused only on maximizing current profits. Clyde Moore, the CEO, was a unique individual who thought “outside of the box”. The originators of Signature Service … Mike Gambino, Tom Hudak and Ann Jaehn had a vision to provide a level of service to their customers that had never ever been experienced in the electrical industry. In 1990, American Electric launched its Signature Service program, the first and only major electrical manufacturer to guarantee service levels with automatic rebates for missed service levels to its distributor customers. This was not simply a marketing program, but a drastic change in how this company would serve its customers forever more. Formerly, American Electric had shipped products to its customers from as many as 80 different plants and warehouses, but in 1990, they established a master distribution center concept within the electrical industry serving its U.S. customers from two major distribution centers. Eventually, they would consolidate to a single, one
million square foot distribution center in Byhalia, MS. In 1992, they began a weekly door-to- door Direct Delivery service to their major distributor customers…an exclusive benefit yet to be matched to this day by their competition. This Direct Delivery service provided superior handling of material, consistent and predictable on- time delivery, and a lower cost to the customer.
What began as a program to deliver 500 of their most popular items, soon grew to 1,000 and then 1,500 and then even more items available for two-day shipment. If American Electric failed to ship the Signature Service items within two workdays, they would offer an immediate rebate on the customer’s invoice of 5%, 10% or 15% depending upon how many product lines the customer was signed up for. While Fed Ex might have offered their customer’s a refund if they missed their promised delivery (provided the customer called
them and asked for it), American Electric automatically deducted the Signature Service penalty on the customer’s original invoice! More importantly, every employee at American Electric was made aware of any weekly Signature Service Misses to the customer … o Plants – buyers, operations, shippers, factory workers o Warehouse – pickers, packers, shippers o Headquarters – marketing, sales, purchasing, operations and even the lobby receptionist! Traditional operating protocols in many companies often work on the principle “when it is out of my hands … it is no longer my responsibility”. This was NOT the case with Signature Service . Even though the product was shipping from the Master Warehouse, the PLANT was responsible for making sure the product was not just shipped from their plant site, but that it had time to ARRIVE at the warehouse and be available for Picking, Packing and Shipping in time to meet the customer’s schedule or THEY were assessed with the MISS! This change in philosophy required everyone in the supply chain to take ownership for making sure the product could/would ship on-time! On more than one occasion, logistics chartered a plane to make sure material arrived at the customer’s site on-time! In 1992, Thomas & Betts acquired American Electric ; Thomas & Betts , founded in 1898, brought an exemplary line of electrical products to this marriage, but it was American Electric’s central warehouse supply chain network, its computer systems infrastructure and Signature Service that led T&B to relocate its corporate headquarters to Memphis, TN. • Acquisitions/Divestitures – Companies tend to have two major ways to grow…either internal product growth by developing new and improved products and services from within the organization or by acquisition. Even as companies grow by acquisition, they often end up buying parts of a company that really do not fit well within their customer focus; as a result, various operations may be later sold off to other companies. I spent several years (1992- 2000) with American Electric and then Thomas & Betts heading up the implementation team that was responsible for consolidating these entities once the company had decided to acquire them. In total, we handled about 35 acquisitions and/or divestitures. Most companies that consolidate a new acquisition tend to focus only on the “mechanics” of the business process and fail to capitalize on the opportunities to enhance the customer service experience. Thus, they often fail to reap the full benefits of the newly acquired acquisition. Smart companies will address the human side of how to conduct acquisitions so that they can improve relations with the employees of the newly acquired company as well as provide a better customer experience for the newly acquired customers of these businesses.
• Computer Dedicated/Dial-up Services – The IBM PC was introduced in late 1981; while not the first PC, it would quickly become the standard desktop system in American business. As
the usage of PC’s grew in business, the desire to link these machines to vendor’s computers became increasingly important to more easily conduct business. In July 1992, American Electric was offering basic mainframe access via the GEIS Network to
key customers; likewise, T&B began offering a similar service in February 1992 via the IBM Advantis network to their customer base. In July 1994, we offered Inventory Availability, Pricing Inquiry/Usage and Purchase Order Inquiry. Later, Cross Reference support was added. • EasyNet Access / T&B Access – Technically, the World Wide Web went public in 1991, but it would be the end of 1996 before just about 10% of Americans were on the Internet. T&B launched its EasyNet Access Customer Support System on the web in January of 1997. In November 2000, T&B elected to rebrand its EasyNet Access to T&B Access. T&B Access has continued to evolve. For a more complete picture of T&B Access, please refer to Appendix I.
For comparison, Amazon was founded in 1994, eBay in 1995, Netflix in 1997, Google (now Alphabet) in 1998, PayPal in 1999, Facebook in 2004 and YouTube in 2005! o EDI … Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is not a common subject when people think of customer satisfaction, but it can be a critical component among businesses that conduct a lot of transactions between each other. EDI is basically a one-way mainframe computer to computer communication to or from a vendor from their customer. These are frequently automated or programmed communications that transfer data like new orders to vendor from a customer, order status from vendor to customer, inventory availability data, etc. The value
of EDI is that it allows a company to extract data from a vendor and/or customer and integrate it in their own computer applications according to how they want the information displayed to their employees. This can be very useful when you are trying to display data from multiple customers and/or vendors and wish to display the info to your employees in some standardized format for their evaluation and use. American Electric began testing EDI with customers in late 1989; Home Depot was one of their first retail sales channel customers to send their orders via EDI. Today, most major customers send at least some of their orders via EDI and there are now over 40 different EDI transaction sets for exchanging data with vendors and customers. EDI not only saves money and time for both the vendor and the customer, but it provides better service for both parties. • Online Stock Check – People may debate over the steps involved in converting a prospect to a customer, but one thing is for certain…at some point in the process, once a decision has been made on WHAT to purchase, the question of WHERE to purchase the item becomes paramount. That is where product availability takes “center stage”. Whether you sell your product directly to an end user or you sell your product through distribution or some other middle tier sales structure, ultimately somebody is going to want to know WHEN THEY CAN GET THE ITEM? Many companies produce a variety of items; some items that are sold in high volume and/or to numerous customers might be normally carried in stock while other items might be made on demand by special order only. For stock items, buyers like to know if the item is currently available for immediate purchase; due to unforeseen demand, an item that is normally in stock may be temporarily “out of stock”; likewise, make-to-order (MTO) items normally have a “lead-time” in days or weeks as to how long it will take to produce the item. Also, if you sell your products through distribution or a retail network, that organization may not carry all of your items in their inventory, so they will need to know how long it will take to get the subject item(s) for their customer(s) … both availability and shipping time so they can relay this information to THEIR customer! The likelihood of making a sale often depends upon the ability and accuracy of the product availability information that is provided to YOUR customer. The more information you can provide your customer…the better the chances are that you will secure the order. Here are some of the data elements we provide when a customer performs our online web stock check: o Catalog Number along with Universal Product Code, Customer Part Number (if applicable) as well as product category of the item being sought o Photo of the item with an extended description to confirm that the item being entered is indeed the item being sought o Links to Product Data Sheet, Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) if applicable, product label, etc. o Listing of any applicable substitutes (in case subject item is not in stock); substitute maybe identical item in different pack size under another catalog number or may be simply another catalog number that is a possible substitute.
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