Take a Ride with Your Customer after the Sale

Many years ago I served in a manufacturing engineering function in a small company. It was a pivotal time and position with an emerging truck equipment manufacturer.  If there’s one thing that I learned above all else it’s “Get to know your Customer.”
In my early days with the company I was sitting at a drafting board detailing piece parts day after day and learning about the application by visiting our installation department. Because we were in the manufacturing end of the snow control business, the season started when the snow flew and the phones started ringing. And ring they did! It was so busy that it wasn’t long before they started asking me to take customer phone calls. The calls were largely dealing with installation issues and customer “concerns.” I didn’t have a lot of experience but I did the best I could, given what I had learned and what I could ask someone else about!
I recall a phone conversation I was having with a customer about an installation problem he was having mounting the controls as described in our instructions. First the instructions were not very clear, and second I was not sure whether we had actually installed them in a truck or had assumed that they could be mounted as we described! The caller was saying that even if he could accomplish the installation, that his customer was going to have a problem operating it. The control would be positioned where they would have to over-reach while still trying to drive and steer. I could tell from his voice that he was becoming frustrated with me parroting back what the instructions said; and finally he asked me “If I had ever operated an installed unit?  I had to admit that I never had!
Of course my credibility dropped considerably with the customer, even though I think he had already come to the conclusion that I had never operated one before I answered his question. A few days later I made a point of operating a snowplow for several hours and only then did I understand what the customer was telling me. The control would not work well in this new application just as he was telling me.
Later, I made it a point to visit and ride with contractors using our product. I learned what they went through in a snow storm, what happens when things break in the middle of a storm. I visited our dealer installers and learned what issues they ran into when even small bolts were missing from our packaging.
We used this information to improve, we set up a simple complaint card system where everyone dealing with customers was able to record and pass on customer concerns. The feedback was valuable to build a better more reliable product, better fit ups in installations, more accurate packing, less missing parts, improving our name and increasing our business.
I know these days you can read data on reports, look at graphs coming off your desktop computer distributed at lightning speed, but …. Do You Ride with Your Customer?
To find out a little about the snow contractor business, here’s a nice Video:
(From ProTech Manufacturing)

Guest post by
Steve Taylor

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