One Man’s Lean Journey: Gain Respect and Deliver What the Customer Desires
I spent about a year working as an Industrial Engineer at Guardian before I got on opportunity to move into the Program Manager position. In this role, I was responsible for managing every engineering change that came through the facility. That could be a new paint color, new components or even a complete redesign with tool modifications. This covered over 5,000 part numbers and at least 10 customers.
Not only was there the external customers, but there were the internal customers. I had to work with the corporate design engineers and product managers as well as the facility’s engineers and senior staff. I had to make sure we were still profitable with the changes. It was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. This is where I learned how to listen to customers wants and combine them with our capabilities.
Being focused on the customer and delivering what they would like does not mean bending over backwards and just caving to every demand they have. It means have a respectful relationship and working together to achieve the desired outcome. Sometimes it was easy. They customer would want a new paint color. I would work with the paint supplier to get the color developed, tested and approved. A pretty standard process and well within our capability.
Sometimes it was much more difficult. One customer wanted their grille of their flagship vehicle to have a “smoked chrome” look like it did in Japan. The look was very popular and they wanted to carry it over to the U.S. The issue was the paint they used in Japan was not legal in the U.S. because of the amount of VOCs. I worked with a team that sat down with the customer and understood what the “smoked chrome” look they were trying to achieve. It took over six months of development with our paint supplier and our process engineers to get the desired look.
All along the way the customer understood the effort we were going through and how complicated it was to get the desired look. Because of this, they agreed to pay a much higher than standard price for the grille. More importantly, a trust and a relationship had grown between our companies. One of respect and understanding. Our efforts to give the customer what they wanted but stay within our facilities capabilities made us a preferred supplier. Nothing was as complicated as that moving forward but when changes where needed, the customer took the approach of “this is what we are looking for. What can you do?”
It was a great lesson in serving the customer without bending on what your purpose and capabilities are in a way that benefits everyone.
- When working directly with the external customer, you must keep in mind your capabilities and core strengths and help deliver within those parameters. It can create some creativity.
- Must focus on the external customer first but you can’t forget the internal customer as well.
- Being firm, but reasonable can help garner trust and a strong relationship. When you give them everything not matter what it does to you, it doesn’t gain respect but one of dominance by the customer