Here’s something to think about. When a customer asks you for a quote or asks if you can deliver some good or service, they have a problem they need solved. Your answer should solve that problem, there and then e.g. be in a position to deliver an instant quote. If it doesn’t, the customer still has a problem… and what’s more, they’ve invested time and effort in the search for a solution involving you, which hasn’t borne fruit.
This is a simple yet powerful illustration of what happens in all kinds of industries, all the time. As a window manufacturer, you’ll ask your aluminum supplier if they can deliver a few tonnes of extrusions so you can complete your next big order. You want a yes, and you want a time frame for delivery, and then only do you want a price.
But if there is umming and ahing about stock levels, or an ‘I’ll get back to you’, your problem isn’t solved. You might phone the next supplier on the list. You may well even accept a higher price from that supplier, so long as their logistic arrangements mean you can reliably get your materials if not sooner, then by an agreed date.
As much as this applies up the supply chain, it also applies down. When your dealers put in an order for a few thousand new windows, the value is made up of at least three components:
- You can do the job
- You can deliver the job to a schedule
- The price is known and agreed upon immediately
Now, this situation plays out every day. Customers call in orders or put in requests for quotes on orders expecting an immediate answer. The question is, how quickly do you respond? Right there, on the spot, therefore solving the customer’s problem? Or do you need to check inventory levels, production schedules, multiple systems and maybe a crystal ball?
For many, some combination of the above is summed up in one short sentence ‘Let me get back to you on that’ and, potentially, a long wait.
The minute you say that sentence, the scene is set for trouble. You get distracted, another note lands on the in-tray, the request gets buried, the long wait unfolds.
If any of this sounds familiar, you have a problem. In an increasingly competitive market, manual processing and poor visibility across your organization is increasingly punished, because if you haven’t solved your customer’s problem there and then, they will likely be calling an alternative supplier who can.
I’ve seen this first-hand in our customer base. In one customer’s instance, a poorly built and maintained database was the epicenter. With poor information, this company couldn’t answer simple requests for an instant quote or an order.
More than that, bad, incomplete, or unavailable information meant constant mistakes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Quality assurance suffered; when asked simple questions about supply, there was no confidence if the goods could be delivered or even if they could be delivered profitably. This left the business one job away from going bust. After all, slim profit margins easily turn to loss margins if the calculations were a few percent out.
What’s the answer here? The key lies in automation combined with Just in Time processes and a dose of the Japanese principle of ‘Kaizen’, or continuous improvement. When you have process automation – linked to the introduction of digital processes rather than manual ones, and that in turn resting on appropriate software systems for design, quoting, manufacturing, financial and logistics processes – you have the data which helps identify where and how improvements can be made.
This is all the more relevant as your business scales. The systems and processes suitable for a 10-man operation are often unsuitable for a 100 or 1000-man business. That’s quite simply because nobody has the mental capacity to keep track of all the moving parts of a bigger business, as opposed to a smaller one where having it all in your head isn’t too much of a stretch.
What this all boils down to is that if your customers are calling you with requests for orders or instant quotes and you aren’t able to answer there and then, you might have a problem. Better systems connect your factory, suppliers, and customers so that when someone rings with a problem, you can solve it on the spot. And that leads to more business, as well as jobs you know are profitable before they’re out the door.
For further information on implementing automation into your manufacturing processes, get in touch below for a free demo.