It is in the nature of engineers that we focus on doing a good job. Precision in our work is essential, yet in the modern, digital world, this isn’t enough. Engineers need to recognise the importance and value of engaging with and informing our customers throughout the service relationship.
Over recent years, online trade has brought a revolution in how we all do business; Initially in retail and now increasingly in the commercial environment.
The bottom line is transparency and the availability of accurate, relevant data that customers can use to plan and make decisions. Delivering this information effectively is an opportunity to build trust and confidence. Additionally, if a customer has the information he needs and trusts the source, he feels less need to have met the supplier.
By leveraging the data management and communication power of technology, new business models have emerged which are rewriting the rule book. A leader in this revolution is Amazon.
This got me thinking about Amazon’s sophisticated online trading model and how engineering companies can learn from the whole Amazon experience.
Amazon is easy to find and easy to use. More importantly, Amazon nurtures and develops very carefully to encourage trust and certainty.
Useful information at every stage
Amazon keeps customers well-informed at every stage. As a result, If items are in stock, the system lets you know. If out of stock, it advises you. You receive advice and updates if there is a delay. When your order is despatched you receive notification, normally with tracking details. Some Amazon logistics suppliers even give you a one-hour delivery slot.
Therefore, everyone wins. Information gives customers confidence. Meanwhile, by keeping everybody in the loop, Amazon creates loyalty.
Customer service opportunities for engineering companies
As I said at the start of this article, too often, engineering companies take the view that doing the best possible job is paramount and if that means customer service takes a hit then so be it,
These days, such views are anachronistic. Customers want and often need, to know where their job is up to. Actually, making this information available will enhance customer relationships. Even so, companies will see such engagement as a time-consuming distraction from the real work. It really doesn’t need to be so.
This is where technology comes in. Any modern engineering business relies on technology to manage jobs and internal information flow to let all members of the team know where we are up to with a particular piece of work. So we have the information, what we typically don’t have is the infrastructure to make this information appropriately available to our customers – a lack which can be perceived as a major barrier to progress.
Amazon’s world is online. They employ teams of developers dedicated to improving information flow and customer experience. Engineering companies like our own don’t have such luxury. Our world is more physical. Even so, I believe that we can provide an equivalent level of service. However, we must be realistic.
A practical approach
Most engineers aren’t going to stop being engineers – their core services remain the same. What we can do is recognise the benefit and value to customers.
Following the Amazon example, a good starting point is to establish and publicise three critical timelines.
These need to:
- Acknowledge all enquiries swiftly
- Provide detailed, costed work quotes rapidly
- Notify customers of scheduled despatch details for finished work
It could be as straightforward as facilitating customer emails direct from internal planning systems so that a simple ‘tick-box’ will automatically send customers a suitably formatted email when:
- Enquiries are logged
- Jobs are costed
- Product is scheduled for despatch
A progression from these ideas can lead to the development of a secure online portal linked to your website where customers can log in 24/7 for an update.
If you feel your business isn’t ready for these ideas, be careful. I believe it won’t be long until you won’t be in business without them!
Shorter turnaround times have value
It’s important to show customers respect in terms of cost-efficiency, quality, and especially time management. Cutting lead-times down from many weeks at the supplier’s convenience to just two or three weeks when customers face urgent production deadlines has bottom-line value. Yes, increasing your engagement with customers will put demands on your business but there is a payback. While development will require the investment of time and money, once established, customer engagement can be a seamless asset to your business going forward.
An engaged, informed and satisfied customer is a loyal customer.
Rome wasn’t built in a day…
Developing a fully integrated CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system is a major investment but this shouldn’t be a barrier to progress. It is often possible to adapt existing systems quickly and inexpensively to make relevant information readily available to customers by email or phone. A simple example might be to ensure customer facing admin staff have the knowledge to navigate company systems to answer queries directly without having to go away, find the answer then call back – all very time-consuming!
To finish, consider this:
Back in 1994 when Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, he announced the company would not sell yard brushes – too difficult to pack and ship!
Searching for ‘Yard Brush’ on Amazon UK this morning gave me 1,737 different results – many available on next-day delivery!
Map out your own business processes to pinpoint opportunities where you could improve specific customer engagement points. Some of these are likely to present solutions more readily than others.
Start with these to make a real difference. As your customer engagement confidence grows, who knows where it might lead you…