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There are things we cannot control and things we can. We cannot control the economy, we cannot control business migration to China, and we cannot control (at least as much as we’d like to) what our customers do. But there is something we can control, something that is entirely in our bailiwick, which we can make as good as it can possibly be. That is the way we run our business, which includes providing customer service. Yes, we can control the way we treat our customers.
Recently, I’ve reached out to some of my clients’ customers. I wanted to know how they felt about doing business with board shops, and I wanted to see how we were doing. The results were disappointing, to say the least. The companies I visited talked about working with board houses with the same disdain that people have when they talk about doing business with their local department of motor vehicles. They did not think that, for the most part, it was a good experience. In fact, many of them talked about dealing with board houses as a necessary evil. Yikes! So that got me to thinking…
Why is that? Why do our customers feel that way about us? In this day and age, when many board shops are losing business, why are we still delivering lousy customers service? As I said, it is the one thing we can control, so why don’t we?
The people I spoke to complained about poor deliveries, poor quality, poor communications, slow response time on RFQs, and worst of all, a lack of honesty on the part of the shops. They told me that most of the fabricators they dealt with were difficult to work with at best, and out and out rude at other times.
As I reviewed these findings, it came to me that our industry is just not focused on the fine art of doing business. We are still so internally focused on equipment and technology that we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the customers. Look at our industry conferences, for example. How many white papers are delivered on the subject of customer service? How many talks are given on finding a successful way to do business?
Our trades magazines and web zines are filled to capacity with articles about technology, but there is almost nothing published about how to run a successful cash-producing business. Nothing.
And please don’t tell me, “This is a technology business, so that’s what people want to see” hogwash. Because that is hogwash…or is it? Well, let me back up for a minute. Maybe it’s not hogwash. In fact, I am sure that it’s a true statement because this kind of thinking represents our industry’s collective group thinking.
I am sure that the fabricators don’t want to see or read anything about customer service and or how to run a successful business because that takes them entirely out of their comfort zone. Their comfort zone is probably lined with posters saying things like “If we build it they will come” and “We’re no worse than anybody else” and “If I buy a new drill, my sales will go up” and “Once my neighbor’s kid’s friend finishes my website, my business will come back.” And there’s my personal all-time favorite, “We always had all the business we needed in the ‘70s. Let’s just stand firm it will come back.”
So now I have to ask, how’s that been working out for you? There used to be well over 1,000 board shops in this country, but there are now a little over 200, after a bunch of them just became part of TTM. We used to have over 80% of the global PCB market; we now have less than 4%. Board shops used have young people beating down their doors; ours used to be an industry that appealed to young professionals. But how many young people you see in our industry today? And finally, board shops used to make money, real profits. Now they can barely stay above water, so once again, all together now, how’s that going for you?
It’s time to burn down the whole damn comfort zone and start focusing on building a great business, a business that delivers good boards on time, every time. Let’s build a business that has great quality, a business that people want to be part of and, the most important thing of all, a business that delivers great customer service. Let’s offer customer service that the customers not only love but consider so valuable they would never want to buy boards from anyone else.
I am warning you right now that for the next three weeks this column is going to be focused on running a great company that delivers great customer service. We’ll lead off next week with how to actually deliver great customer service. Next we will talk about what a great company actually is, and the week after that we’ll discuss how to become the most valuable company in the industry today.
So, if you want to be around for a few more years, I would urge you to join me next week when we start working on your company. Its only common sense.