Whether you are in the business of board fabrication or board assembly, the fact is that you are not building your own products. You are building your customers’ products, which means that you are in the business of helping your customers be successful. The better your services are, the better their products will be, and the more successful they are, the more successful we are.
In order to build their products well, we have to know everything we can about our customers. We have to understand their processes, their end-products, the environment their products see, the markets they are in, and what it takes for them to be successful in their market.
There are a number of ways to find out about your customers’ needs. The first and most obvious, of course, is through your salespeople. It is their job to get in front of the customers and find out everything they can about them. A great salesperson will know a great deal about the customers, and what they need from your company. The second way is through company-to-company meetings, when the customer comes to your company to take a tour, meet with their counterparts in your company and learn all about your company. We in turn try to do the same in return, but not often enough.
But there’s a better way, and that is the customer survey. Now, I’m not talking about those little five-question surveys that we have to send out to meet our ISO requirements. There is nothing wrong with those…they serve a purpose. But that is not the kind of survey I am talking about.
No, I am talking about a well thought-out, personally delivered customer survey. This survey is filled with pertinent questions that properly asked and answered will give you a complete picture of what your customer is like. What follows is an example of a good survey that I use. Check it out and use it with your own customers.
One bit of key advice I will give you. Make sure this survey is done in real time on the phone. This is not something to send in and expect your customers to fill it in like a test…it ain’t gonna happen. Actually, taking the time to talk with your customer so that you can figure out how to do a better job is part of the appeal of this survey. Your customers will be impressed.
Here are some of the guidelines for conducting this survey:
- Have your salespeople chose the customers to survey.
- Have a non-salesperson perform the survey. Make sure this person is friendly and easy to talk to. The more this person is able to get the customer to talk, the better it will be. Make sure the person is polite and not invasive.
- This survey should be done on the customers’ time.
- Choose only seven or eight customers and make sure they represent a cross-section of your customers.
Here is the survey:
(In the first part of the survey, we are attempting to find out how your company is doing in terms of servicing your customers.)
1. How would you rate our company as a supplier?
2. Do you find our company an easy, customer-friendly board shop to do business with?
3. Do you feel that we adequately handle all of your needs? Technical? Quick Turn? Quality? Price? Other?
4. Do you feel that you can rely on our sales force to act as your customer advocate?
5. Are you happy with our products and services?
6. Do you like doing business with our company?
7. Do you plan to use us in the future?
8. What type of specific requirements do you use our company for?
9. What is the single most important factor in your decision to place your business with our company?
Part 2 (Learning your customers’ perception of your company)
We are trying to get a better understanding of how we are perceived in the marketplace. With this in mind, I want to ask you these questions.
11. In terms of annual revenue, what size in dollars do you think our company is?
12. How do you categorize us when it comes to technology level?
13. Is it your perception that our company is a prototype shop? Production shop? High-technology shops? Do you know that we do (what the company’s niche is)?
14. How long do you think we have been in business?
15. Is ISO important in your selection of a vendor?
16. Would you recommend us to other customers who use our products?
Part 3 (Thank the customer for being so patient, and explain that you only have a few of questions left)
We only have a few more questions. These basically have to do with making us a better supplier.
17. If there were one single thing you would like to see us improve upon, what would that be?
18. Is there a particular technology that our company is currently not doing that you would like to see us get into?
19. Please describe what you would consider a great supplier.
20. Do you prefer to order production quantities from the same company that built the prototypes and pre-production orders?
21. When ordering, is it important that your supplier be located relatively near your facility?
22. Now, it’s your turn. Are there any questions or comments you would like to ask?
Thank you again for your time and for the business you have given our company. Again, my name is _____________, and the next time you are visiting our facility, please make sure to stop by and say hello.
Summarizing the Information
They key is to summarize this information and use it as effectively as possible. List all of the questions and their answers together. This should give you good insight into what your customers as a whole think about your company. From these answers, you create your action plan. For example, if you are in the prototype business and half of your customers do not know it, you can focus on getting that message out. If all or most of your customers say they need a vendor with qualifications such as ISO or AS 9100, and you’re do not, you’ve got a problem to fix.
The important thing is to use this information wisely. In one way or another, your customers should be surveyed at least once a year. It’s only common sense.