There should be no confusion about what a customer expects from the business relationship with a supplier. A critical aspect of a company’s go-to-market tactics is having clear processes and effective systems that create strong connection points to the customer.
What are you most critical business processes? How are these related to customer satisfaction?
Who owns these processes?
These four successful companies who used the 9Stucks approach have radically different business models:
- Manufacturer of large, custom test equipment
- Engineering services consulting firm
- Printer of trade magazines
- Manufacturer of precision electronic assemblies
Even though they are very different businesses, there is ONE critical thing they all had in common:
They all had one customer-centric, internal process that had no clear ownership.
Each one of them lacked distinct accountability and ownership by ONE person over ONE important process linked directly to their customers.
Examples of these processes include:
- Custom equipment company: response to an RFP – the equipment proposal
- Engineering firm: the written consulting scope of work/proposal
- Printer: the magazine’s page design layouts
- Precision electronics company: the detailed order specs
One of these businesses had a person who was responsible for “…facilitating the weaving of processes among the cross functional groups that connect us to our customers.” Sounds very professional, but being a facilitator ≠ ownership of those key processes.
The CEO of the precision electronics assembly company was frustrated with frequent problems related to the order specifics (e.g. delivery release dates, piece count, delivery locations, quality tests) for ABC Inc., one of their largest customers.
Here’s a summarized recap of the ‘insider’ discussion between yours truly acting as CEO Coach and the CEO (Bill):
CEO (Bill): There are many instances where we can’t seem to get the order details right. We end up fixing too many customer issues.
ME: Who owns the order?
Bill: Well, we need to get a number of groups involved with processing of orders in our shop…
ME: It’s good that sales, engineering, QC and finance are all involved with new orders, but “Who owns the order?”
Bill: It isn’t that simple.
ME: It may not be easy, but…is there one person who owns (and is accountable for) all the order details?
ME: You’ve been talking about order problems with ABC for a while now. When are you going to fix it?
Why does this matter? This whole topic may seem too obvious to even mention, but unfortunately I’ve seen many instances in a variety of companies where the broad and specific customer needs are taken for granted or simply ignored.
There is an old saying I like to use to describe situations like this: “That which is owned by all is cared for by no one.” (Unknown)
To Bill’s credit he decided to act – he had ‘had enough’. Bill’s tactics were not complicated, but they were effective:
- ABC was a ‘top 5’ account. Bill set up a face to face meeting with ABC’s point person. He and a few of his key people (sales, operations, engineering) visited ABC at their place of business.
- They agreed on the specific nature and examples of the order issues.
- ABC admitted they had a role in some of the confusion —> late orders, quick, sometimes unrealistic leadtimes
- Bill’s team documented the detailed order process flow (sideways review) both for ABC and for other accounts. They looked for any unique aspects of the ABC order process. They found a few ‘special characteristics’ that required the order flow for ABC to be customized somewhat. Bill assigned ABC’s account/order ownership to one sales engineer.
- They met again with ABC, shared the business process analysis, explained to ABC their revised internal process and introduced the new contact person assigned to ABC. They outlined their expectations from ABC and got cooperation and new committment from the customer.
- The new processes worked. On time deliveries went from less than 60% to over 95% and the quality issues disappeared.
- ABC recognized the positive changes and shifted business from their second supplier back to Bill’s company.
Do you have fuzzy accountability around key processes that directly impact your overall customer relationships? If so, how can you fix them?