Tag Archive: operations

Customer Care 1.01 & The SLURPY Method by Guest Blogger, Steve Weimar

October 1st, 2019

When we think of who’s responsible for developing and retaining the customer relationship business owners and CEO’s too often feel this is solely the role and responsibility of the Business Development or Sales team. I’m here to tell you that mindset is narrow-minded and can lead to a parade of lost business, sometimes in a very short time. Everyone in the company plays a role in customer retention!

When we think of why a customer buys from us and how to retain them we need to look at every aspect of our business, who adds value and who are the Contact Points or CP’s. We also need to adopt a simple company operating philosophy I call SLURPY, not the drink at 7-11, but a set of 6 basic principles that are critical to both customer and inter-departmental relationships.

 

S     Smile into the phone or in a meeting – it’s hard to communicate negatively when you smile

L     Leave your personal issues at home – distractions at work or in a meeting can derail your ability to concentrate and perform in a professional manner towards customers

U    Understand that the customers purchases are funding your compensation and benefits – no customer purchases, no job, no money

R    Respect your customer – business is people working with people. That means all types of people!

P     Problem Solving can be some of the most important customer and inter-departmental building and retention experiences – if handled improperly they can derail the relationship. Remember, in every problem lies the solution.

Y     You treat customers and your colleagues as you would want to be treated – think about the times you’ve had poor service. Is that what you want for your customer or colleague?

Now that we understand SLURPY, let’s see how understanding your company’s many CP’s are an extension of SLURPY and can make or break a company and customer retention.

CP1

Receptionist or Automated Attendant is usually the most common touch point in an on-going relationship but can be the first contact point ever for that prospect. This is where I see successful companies shine while others fail miserably. If this is the first CP at the company this position needs to be taken seriously and not considered an entry-level hire.

  • Live Attendants must come across as happy and cheerful on the phone and if they are really at the top of their game will be able to recognize those callers who regularly call the company and acknowledge them with either a “Hi (first name of caller) who would you like to talk to?” If they call for the same person or persons each time you should add that to your response such as “Hi (first name of caller), Sue is on a call right now, would you like to leave a voice mail or would you like to speak with someone else?” Invest in this position versus feeling this is an entry-level position in your company.
  • Automated Attendants can be a valuable tool or the kiss of death. What you want to have is a quick and easy means for inbound calls to reach their destination. This is accomplished by first recording a short but cheerful message with department code options and a method to enter extension numbers and/or a Directory (EXAMPL:E: Dial 1 for Customer Service, 2 for Sales, 3 for Accounts Receivable or 4 for the Company Directory). They should also have an option to reach a live person at any time to prevent customer frustration. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of Automated Attendants as many take too long to reach a live person. My recommendations if you have an Automated Attendant are…don’t go into a long-winded sales pitch or history lesson about the company on your recorded message. Use the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method and help your customers reach their desired party quickly, just like you would want to be treated when you’re the caller.

CP2   

Customer Service typically has more CP’s with the customer than the Biz Dev or Sales Mgr. Customer Service can, and in many cases is, the most important CP in the customer relationship. A single call from a customer to an unhappy or rude Customer Service Rep can dismantle months and even years of customer relationship building. Ways to improve your customer relationship through Customer Service:

    Make sure to communicate back and confirm tasks, questions and order details before ending the call.

    • Follow up the call with a quick email detailing the topics and/or order details
  • Go the extra mile. EXAMPLE: An order is placed 30 minutes after shipping cut off. Don’t promise it will ship but work with Operations to see if this is possible then communicate to the customer. I’ve even seen the Customer Service Rep take the package to FedEx or UPS to make sure the customer is taken care of. Little things make a difference.
  • Make every attempt to diffuse friction and issues within reason. Remember, these are sometimes the most important calls and gives the Customer Service Rep and the company a chance to solve the problem and make it go away for the customer.
    • Advise the appropriate Sales Rep/Biz Dev person of any issues brought up during the call and what you plan of action you are undertaking

CP3       

Sales/Business Development is typically responsible for initiating and maintaining the on-going customer direct relationship but they also have some critical obligations and tasks to keep the customer happy, engaged and continuing to buy the company’s products or services.

  • The adage of Under Promise and Over Deliver is in some cases hard for the Sales/Biz Dev teams to adhere to. By being too optimistic and over promising you’ve established unrealistic expectations for the customer which can lead to loss of trust and a damaged customer relationship. In addition, it causes internal conflict between many departments within the company who are left with trying to pick up the pieces when the promise is not met.
  • Written confirmations of the offer, the company’s defined policies and procedures, product performance capabilities, shipping schedules, pricing, delays, product issues and more are ways to create and maintain a solid, trusting and long-term customer relationship. By sharing these with other departments you can make others feel included and informed.
  • Whenever possible, customers need to be pre-qualified to see if they are a fit with the company. Strange as this may seem to some readers not all prospects should be customers. For instance, a company known in the industry for violating MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) policies may do more harm than good to the company and its other customers. Same is true for prospects or customers who cause so much turmoil in other departments that they undermine the cohesive synergy of the company and its employees. You have to be willing to turn down or lose the customer if they aren’t a fit for the company.
  • Build on your customer relationships with regular contacts and meetings, meal events away from the office as customers are more relaxed and open in their discussions. Build relationships where possible that are long-term and go beyond business as those are harder to lose and typically less vulnerable to pirating by a competitor. But…don’t let down your guard.

CP4

Accounting, and specifically Accounts Receivable, plays a key role in a company’s success or lack thereof as cash flow is a critical component of survival. Sales and Biz Dev staff typically want to distance themselves as far away as possible from the role of collecting payments from customers and fail to realize the difficulty of this job. An over zealous and aggressive AR Rep or Manager can undermine the customer relationship. Some ways to improve this customer interface are:

  • The AR and Sales/Biz Dev teams have regular calls or face to face meetings to review problem accounts and work together to resolve the issues. Define a plan to improve.
  • Sales/Biz Dev can make sure AR is aware of extended terms and or pricing, disputes, customer cash flow issues, problems or anything that could stall on-time payments.
  • Get the Sales/Biz Dev person involved if AR is unsuccessful in collecting payment.

CP5

Operations is another opportunity to positively impact the customer relationship and the value to its customers. Additionally, Operations can add relationship value many ways:

  • Produce a quality product, package it properly to prevent shipping damage, ship the product on time and communicate any delays or issues to Sales and Customer Service.
  • Have some level of controlled flexibility in shipping lead times and order cut-off times.
  • Work as a team player with Sales and Customer Service to satisfy the customer.
  • If you deliver products to your customers in company owned trucks make sure the trucks are clean and the drivers are well groomed and courteous as they are representatives of the company. They should report back to the appropriate department whenever they hear of an issue with a customer or the delivery.
  • Meet regularly with Sales and Customer Service to discuss customer feedback, conflicts and issues and define a plan to improve.

CP6       

Marketing delivers your company’s messages to the world and strategically positions the company for success. They communicate the company’s value proposition and product or service differentiation in a consistent and strategic manner. Additionally, they should communicate your We Care customer philosophy as part of the many messages they deliver. Some added elements to support customer retention are:

  • They should have a direct connection to the company’s customers for research and feedback about the company, market channel, products, competitors, etc.
  • Be included in key customer and/or prospect meetings as needed to gain more direct input
  • Communicate their plans to the team in advance of launch
  • Track KPI’s for the various marketing programs and share them with the Team
  • Meet regularly with Sales and Biz Dev to discuss their marketing plans and programs

CP7

Technical / Warranty Support is your company’s 911 call center. They are either fielding problem calls or delivering answers regarding products. Your staff needs to be problem solvers and trained to diffuse conflicts. In addition, they should have in depth knowledge of all the company’s products and a general knowledge of competitive products and how they compare to yours.  Customers want quick answers and solutions but also want to feel you care. Some ways to go the extra mile are:

  • A quick follow-up email and/or phone call later in the day or the next day to see if the problem was resolved or to advise that a warranty replacement part or unit was shipped. You can add another layer of follow-up in 30 or 60 days, if warranted, to make sure all if well.
  • Advise the customers Sales Rep of any problems so they are in the loop.
  • Track technical and warranty support calls to create KPI’s that can be shared with the Team.

CP8

Engineering and Product Development are directly responsible for developing products of high quality that do what they say they will do as a bad product can damage, and in some cases ruin, the company’s reputation and damage customer relationships.

They also need to provide a solution to the customer’s needs and/or desires. In many successful companies the end-user and the target channel, or customer base, are included in pre-product planning and research. This allows companies to design what the customer needs and/or wants which leads to success.

Bottom line, every department and employee in the company is responsible for the company’s success. By harnessing the talent of the TEAM and creating a collaborative working environment, long term customer retention becomes part of the company’s DNA and operating personality.  This will be obvious to customers as they interact with the various departments and a sense of WE, not I, will permeate in every aspect of your business. I recommend developing KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) to track major focus points and use those as a scorecard of your company’s performance. One additional method of grading your company’s performance can be gained through annual customer satisfaction surveys. If done correctly these can be quite eye-opening and a valuable self-improvement tool.

By: Steve Weimar STI Enterprises, Inc.



Manufacturing Expert, Lisa Anderson, Sees Impacts of Artificial Intelligence on Manufacturing Profit, Inventory Levels and Cash

September 20th, 2019

Manufacturing Expert, Lisa Anderson, Sees Impacts of
Artificial Intelligence on Manufacturing Profit, Inventory Levels and Cash

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – September 19, 2019 –  Manufacturing and Supply Chain Expert,  Lisa Anderson, MBA, CSCP, CLTD, president of LMA Consulting Group Inc., predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) and human learning will impact most aspects of manufacturing resulting in improved profits, inventory levels and cash.

“Our manufacturing clients have really embraced the power of AI since the first of the year.  From improved forecast accuracy impacting inventory levels to more openly working with changing customer needs and the overall customer experience, manufacturers are seeing the effects of using this data,” Ms. Anderson commented. LMA Consulting Group works with manufacturers and distributors on strategy and end-to-end supply chain transformation to maximize the customer experience and enable profitable, scalable, dramatic business growth.

“Despite the fact that manufacturing, especially in Inland Southern California continues to be strong, manufacturers need to be smart. By integrating AI with tried and true techniques such as SIOP (Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning) and taking advantage of predictive analytics and other human learning technologies in conjunction with ERP systems, manufacturers can become better at forecasting and exceeding customer expectations.  In fact, for every one percent improvement in forecast accuracy, there can be a seven percent improvement in inventory levels and therefore cashflow,” she said.

In an effort to support clients, Ms. Anderson is active with the Board of Directors of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, where she represents the Logistics Council whose initiative is developing a consortium for logistics, supply chain and advanced manufacturing success. “AI and other forms of technology are transforming manufacturing as we know it. From reevaluating sourcing and enabling robots to predictive maintenance and shortened design times, AI offers up vast potential. Successful manufacturers are strengthening their hold. Supply chain and other manufacturing professionals are sharpening their skills to take advantage of these resources. It takes work, smart management and a strong team to be successful. A perfect storm for manufacturing success. The evidence is in the growth we see in Inland Southern California (also known as the Inland Empire),” she concluded.

About LMA Consulting Group – Lisa Anderson, MBA, CSCP, CLTD

Lisa Anderson is the founder and president of LMA Consulting Group, Inc., a consulting firm that specializes in manufacturing strategy and end-to-end supply chain transformation.  She focuses on maximizing the customer experience and enabling profitable, scalable, dramatic business growth. Ms. Anderson is a recognized Supply Chain thought leader by SelectHub, named a Top 40 B2B Tech Influencer by arketi group, 50 ERP Influencer by Washington-Frank, a top 46 most influential in Supply Chain by SAP and named a top woman influencer by Solutions Review. She recently published, I’ve Been Thinking, 101 strategies for creating bold customer promises and profits. A regular content contributor on topics including a superior customer experience with SIOP, advancing innovation and making the supply chain resilient, Ms. Anderson is regularly interviewed and quoted by publications such as Industry Week, tED magazine and the Wall Street Journal.  For information, to sign up for her Profit Through PeopleTM Newsletter or for a copy of her book, visit LMA-ConsultingGroup.com.
                                                                         # # #
Media Contact
Kathleen McEntee | Kathleen McEntee & Associates, Ltd. | p. (760) 262 – 4080 | KMcEntee@KMcEnteeAssoc.com   
                                                        



Why Inventory Will Matter Again

June 8th, 2019

I was on a bit of a trip down memory lane over the holidays as I reconnected with former colleagues from when I was VP of Operations and Supply Chain at PaperPak, an absorbent products manufacturer for healthcare and food products.  I recently talked about healthcare manufacturing with a group of powerful women (and a few brave men) at the Professional Women in Healthcare event.  When inventory arose as a hot topic, I thought about paper rolls (pictured).

Actually, inventory was a hot topic as we partnered with key customers to develop collaborative forecasting models, implement vendor managed inventory programs to dramatically reduce inventory and free up cash while improving service levels and to maximize storage and efficiencies in our operations, distribution centers and, most importantly, throughout our transportation system (since absorbent products are bulky and freight intensive).

In our view, inventory is circling back in importance and will become a hot topic again as customers expect immediate, customized deliveries with the expectation of easy returns and last-minute changes to orders in production, in the warehouse or in transit. What are you doing to get ahead of this ‘new normal’ assumption?

To throw out a few ideas to get your juices flowing:

  • Get demand further into your supply chain – what are your customers’ customers selling or using of your product?
  • Be collaborative with strange bedfellows – I’ve written several articles recently on this topic as the most successful executives see the value in finding the ‘win-win-win’
  • What talent do you have focused on having the ‘right’ inventory at the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time? You could double your inventory and decrease service if you don’t know how to navigate these treacherous waters.
  • How sure are you that your demand and supply (labor, skills, machine capacity, buildings/ storage capacity, cash flow) are aligned and will remain aligned (review your SIOP plans)?

This topic reminds me of one of my early articles, the Million Dollar Planner. Although that sounds insane, it might be worth thinking about conceptually. If you maximize your customer experience, profitability and cash flow, the return is frequently in excess of a million dollars. Most importantly, what could you do with an extra million dollars? Invest in new products and services to spur growth? Build your infrastructure to enable scalable growth? Build your talent base to create sustainability? The possibilities are limitless.

Contact us if you’d like to discuss further.



The Value of Alignment: Sales, Operations & Finance

May 30th, 2019

Alignment might sound like a fluffy concept, but it delivers bottom line results. Our most successful clients have achieved the most substantial results from alignment. Although SIOP (Sales, Inventory, Operations Planning) gets a wrap as a technical topic, in our experience, it is the alignment portion of SIOP that delivers the bacon!

For example, in one client project, the Sales Leader was concerned about service levels. He knew that service was the differentiator in the marketplace, and if they didn’t have quick lead times and responsive customer service, it would negatively impact his ability to grow the business. On the other hand, planning knew that sales tended to come in dramatic spikes which were hard to predict in advance and so strategic inventory could make sense. Operations wasn’t too keen on inventory since they had a lean mentality with the view that inventory was ‘bad’, and they were concerned about capacity and staffing. Accounting set rules on overhead rates as a percentage of sales on a monthly basis which caused HR and Operations to hire and fire temps continually (and sometimes full-time resources). Overtime wasn’t used as a rule of thumb and was seen as costly by management, In fact, it was the only client we’ve ever worked with that didn’t use at least some percentage of overtime on a continual basis. And, of course, R&D created new products and had no idea about the volume and the impact on capacity and staffing. In essence, no one was on the same page!

We created a demand plan based on historical forecasts with sales input, confirmed the capacity and staffing levels required to meet that forecast and determined that if we level loaded the forecast over a quarter, we could create a win-win: improved service during the sales spikes with improved margins (lower temp turnover, improved efficiencies etc.). But it didn’t matter if we didn’t align the team. That was the 80/20 to creating success (and is ALWAYS the hardest part). Fast-forward 3-6 months down-the-road: We shortened service dips from the sales spikes, increased the service levels and reduced costs.

These types of client results are commonplace with alignment no matter your position in the supply chain or the world. Have you considered whether your teams are saying they are aligned or whether they are truly using the same playbook? It often will make the difference between a happy customer and a disgruntled one (which isn’t something anyone wants in today’s on-line era), let alone the profit impacts. If you are interested in an alignment assessment, please contact us.

 

Did you like this article?  Continue reading on this topic:

The Strongest Link in Your Supply Chain

SIOP: How Collaboration & Judgement Can Achieve Wonders

What’s Ahead for Supply Chain?



We Are All Salespeople

May 13th, 2019

Do you think of yourself as a salesperson? For most of us, the answer is probably ‘no’; however, every successful executive, manager, professional and person is a salesperson.  

Last week, I participated in a consulting conference, and our Society for the Advancement of Consulting ambassadors (pictured here) filled the role of salesperson to spread the word on the value of SAC. We had a great time and many value-added discussions. I find the key to ‘selling’ is actually providing value; not selling people products and services they do not need!

When I think back, I have always been in sales even though I thought I had no idea whatsoever about sales at the time. The way I got my first job was talking about the value of a senior project and how it was applicable to performing a planning role. I had NO idea that this was actually selling but it is how I successfully landed a great job out of college. Early in my career, I found system settings that would make our Coca-Cola facility’s process better, and I had to sell IT and others on why they should support this change. Later at a plastic injection molder, I had to sell management on why we should focus on certain inventory initiatives.

Lastly, as a VP of Operations of an absorbent products manufacturer, I absolutely spent 90% of my time selling my team on how they were valuable to the vision, suppliers on how they could have a part on creating a win-win, customers on how we could create collaborative vendor management inventory initiatives that would increase their service and profit (which would also improve our revenue growth, inventory and efficiencies), the Board of Directors on why we should focus efforts on material projects to drive profitable growth (even though they wanted me to focus on reducing labor costs instead) and the list goes on. In consulting, 80% of project success (partnering with the client to make sure results occur) relates to selling and positioning. After all, doesn’t it all stem from successfully navigating change?

Think about your career and daily job responsibilities. I bet you are selling every day as well!

One tip to implement this week:

The key to success in sales is to provide value. As I read in a book by my consulting mentor when I decided to start consulting, selling consulting services is simply finding ways to provide value to clients by helping them to increase the value of their businesses. Somehow, increasing the value of businesses sounded FAR simpler to me than selling people on hiring me as a consultant (after all, who budgets to hire a consultant?), and so I went for it (and am celebrating my 14th year anniversary in May).

Of course, it isn’t exactly that simple; however, it is absolutely true. The crux of all sales is in providing value. Think about when you purchase products and services. Why do you purchase? I used to think I was quite logical and not influenced by typical sales techniques; however, it is human nature that logic makes us think and emotions make us act. Although I am never tempted by clothes (except as I know I need to look decent to be successful), I realized I spent quite a bit of money on education to be successful in my consulting practice. Clearly, I saw the value and ‘went for it’. How can you show value more often in your job, your company, and of your products and services?