As a former owner of a mid-sized gear manufacturing facility, I understand the pressures that owners and their staffs endure to satisfy their customers. I’m also a practical guy who has been involved with manufacturing for over 30 years. As part of my current manufacturing consulting practice, I see many businesses struggle with the various challenges that arise daily.
One of latest challenges is that of time. With the advent of email and portable communication devices, time, as they say, is of the essence. These advances allow almost instant delivery of messages, orders, and, as I call it, the “request for quote.”
The RFQ is the first step in the order process that engages your manufacturing brilliance to the needs of your customer. The main problem is that the customers that we desire are in a hurry. Chances are that the parts you’ve been asked to quote were put into their system late, held up by scheduling issues, or the customer is just shopping the parts around. Whatever the reason, the response is requested to be delivered on a rush basis. Sound familiar?
Since the customer is always right, and what they want is paramount to our success, many companies will jump through any imaginable hoop to satisfy their customers. What these same companies forget is that they are not in business to satisfy customers. They are in business to make money. By rushing around like the proverbial chicken with its head cutoff, they guarantee lower profits and less satisfaction for the most important entity—themselves.
Customer satisfaction is a means to an end, and before you throw this magazine against the wall, I believe that the companies who satisfy their customers are, generally, more successful. However, in the rush to quote, many issues can be overlooked and cost you money.
So, what am I referring to? Well, I have to admit that I’m not a good guesser of prices for outside services. I also know that if you don’t know what your costs are, you cannot quote accurately or make intelligent business decisions. Guessing at what a heat-treater will charge you or what the steel cost will be for a job are two common areas where people make assumptions. What about the machine cycle times? In gear cutting, there are many programs that you can use that are fairly accurate and allow a great degree of customization to nail down cutting times. Turning, milling, and grinding are a bit more difficult but can be handled by getting outside costs for operations.
But there’s that issue of time hanging over our heads that forces people to take shortcuts. These shortcuts shortchange your profit margins. You must take time and make time to completely evaluate and insure that what you quote is what you can and will make on the job.
However, there are other profit bleeds in this process. In our haste to make it to the quote finish line, we may not take the time to fully understand what is on the blueprint or purchase order. For instance, I recently looked at a print that called for sand blasting of specified areas. Pretty simple, right? Wrong. Turns out it’s not sand blasting at all. The customer actually wanted a specific brand and size of glass bead used at a specific pressure for a specific blasting time. Also, it is not a typical size or type of glass bead that many manufacturers use in their everyday blast cabinets. You’d have to buy this special glass bead, change out your regular media, and blast away. Did I forget to tell you about the masking requirement as well?
How was this all found out? Someone took the time to the customer a question. Do you think you’ll look stupid or show that you don’t know how to make parts? Think again. The only certain thing is that the parts will not be made correctly and will not satisfy your customer. And, most importantly, you will not make money. As the saying goes, “if you don’t take the time to make it right the first time, you’ll always find the time the second time around.”
These questions can be asked during quoting or order processing after you get the order. Obviously, the best time would be before you quote so you can include these hidden costs in the quote. But there’s that time thing again, and the guessing and ignoring of seemingly harmless specifications comes into play. Does your customer have internal or cite industry standards on their prints? Missing or impossible-to-make dimensions? Ignore them at your own risk. You may even discover that the purchasing agent is happy to hear from you. It also gives you an opportunity to interact with them and their engineers.
Clearly, it takes time to clear up these issues, but, in the end, you’ll end up making quality parts that the customer will gladly pay for the first time around. Over time, you’ll build a relationship with the customer and become a trusted vendor. By not quoting certain jobs due to tight quote cutoff dates, you will make more money and your satisfaction will be higher than ever. You need to question the value of customers who do not buy into this type of process. Dealing with vendors who don’t understand their parts is a direct route to supply chain disasters.
Time is of the essence, but your time and money need to be at the forefront of your mind to effectively manage your business. Remember, the only person who really cares about your business is you.