November 25, 2016 / agility, best practices, blade life, continuous improvement, customer delivery, customer service, LIT, quality, strategic planning, workflow process
There is no question that customer expectations are changing. Companies like Amazon have raised the bar on what customers should expect from a service provider, whether that means Sunday deliveries or using the latest technology to improve the purchasing experience.
Not surprisingly, the so-called “Amazon effect” has found its way into industrial manufacturing. Supply chain consultant Lisa Anderson says she has seen this first hand with all of her manufacturing and distribution clients. On-time deliveries, she says, are no longer enough. Today’s customers are looking for suppliers that can offer faster lead times and value-added services that will benefit their bottom line.
While same-day delivery may not yet be feasible, industry leaders are finding several ways to enhance customer service. According to the brief, “Strategies for Improving Customer Service and On-Time Delivery in Industrial Metal Cutting,” the following are just a few of the strategies industrial metal-cutting organizations are using to better meet the demands of their customers:
- Put Quality First. Balancing speed with quality has always been a pain point for manufacturers, but as any metal-cutting company can attest, customers are now asking for tighter tolerances in half the time. Growing demand has made this an even greater challenge. While speed and agility are certainly key attributes of any leading metal-cutting operation, they cannot come at the expense of accuracy. In sawing, for example, if an operator increases the speed of the saw to get more cuts per minute without considering the feed setting or the material, the end result will be decreased blade life, possible maintenance issues, and lower quality cuts. In the same way, companies focused solely on speed and delivery without considering the quality aspect of customer service will likely see other areas of their business suffer, including customer retention and costs.
- Standardize Processes. Standardization is one of the key aspects of lean manufacturing. However, experts believe it is often the missing link within many so-called lean factories. By taking the time to standardize manufacturing processes, metal-cutting operations can keep production moving smoothly while also maintaining consistency. This is especially true for shops that run multiple shifts. For example, managers can create standardized cut charts so operators know the right blade to use for every process and type of job. Procedure checklists, sign-off sheets, and training reference documents are additional tools managers can use to maintain quality throughout the production process.
- Consider ISO Certification. Many industry leaders are finding that becoming ISO 9001 certified helps them maintain quality standards during times of high volume. The ISO standard is based on a number of quality management principles, including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, and continuous improvement. The basic goal of the ISO standard is to help companies provide customers with consistent, good quality products and services, which, in turn, often brings business benefits like improved financial performance. In most cases, it is used to strengthen existing quality programs by making it a formal, documented procedure.
- Engage Customers. As many leading companies are discovering, the voice of the customer can be a valuable tool. According to research from consulting firm Aberdeen Group: “The customer has become much more than a product delivery channel and instead has morphed into an integral stakeholder with the clout to determine the viability of the organization, and their voice can no longer be taken for granted.” Of course, customer feedback requires some form of measurement, which can mean anything from tracking every call to your service center to having your sales team proactively reach out to customers for input. The goal is to both gather and leverage customer feedback to identify problem areas and reveal new service opportunities.
Many forges and other industrial metal-cutting companies are also diversifying their services to better serve new and existing customers. In fact, Ampco-Pittsburgh Corporation has built diversification into its corporate strategy. Earlier this month, the Carnegie, PA-based forging operation announced the acquisition of ASW Steel, Inc., a steel producer based in Welland, Ontario, Canada.Commenting on the acquisition, John Stanik, Ampco-Pittsburgh’s CEO, said:
“This acquisition is a very important element in Ampco-Pittsburgh’s strategic diversification plan. ASW’s proven broad expertise in flexible steel refining methods will provide us with the capabilities to manufacture the additional chemistries needed to expand our reach in the open-die forging market. The transaction also enhances our ability to grow in markets in which we currently participate and to add new markets for customers in the oil and gas, power generation, aerospace, transportation, and construction industries.”
What does it take to keep your customers satisfied and, more importantly, gain their loyalty? In today’s demanding market, most industrial metal-cutting companies would say high quality, competitive costs, and on-time delivery. However, those have always been the hallmarks of any good manufacturer, and some might argue that the last few years weeded out any companies that even remotely lagged in these key areas. How you “amp up” your customer service game will largely depend on what you already have in place, but the above strategies are just a few ideas to get you started.
What is one thing you could do to improve customer service in your forging operation?