Cozy Up to Customers

Cozy Up to Customers

Employee engagement with clients fosters a sense of worker pride and ownership.

When customers have a question about a product from Astro Manufacturing & Design, they oftentimes deal directly with the machine operator who is producing the part. The reason the Eastlake, Ohio-based fabrication and machining operation gives employees such empowerment is simple: Employees know the product best.

"It is not unusual here to have shop-floor people interface directly with customers, especially if the employee has special skills or knowledge," says Rich Peterson, vice president of business development for the manufacturer of medical, aerospace and automotive components. "My sales guys often encourage this in specific situations because they don't always have all of the answers. If by doing this we can better serve our customer, then we do it."

As a side benefit, employee/customer interaction can boost morale, something that's declined in many organizations as a result of layoffs, pay reductions and other cost-cutting measures during the economic downturn. "It gives the employee a feeling of ownership and involvement on a project. I think that, from a morale perspective, this is a very positive thing to do," Peterson says.

Astro Manufacturing employee Jay Crumb says having face-to-face interaction with customers helps him be more receptive to their needs. "When you know somebody personally, and you've talked to them directly, you want to make it right for them a little more than if it's just a piece of paper coming through the shop," says Crumb, electrical discharge machining department supervisor.

Workers at Cordis LLC's San German, Puerto Rico, operations have an opportunity to view medical procedures to see how the stent coatings they produce (as pictured above) help save lives.

In some cases, Crumb says he can offer ways to reduce product cost to a customer. "I have an idea of what my machine cost rate is, so I can offer some suggestions for how we can do things to reduce costs, whereas sales may not know that," he says.

Visiting the Customer

At its San German, Puerto Rico, operations, stent coating manufacturer Cordis LLC tries to build a similar bond between employees and customers by sending workers to hospitals where they can view the company's product in action. "This takes our employee motivation to the next level because they can see their everyday effort in a product that is being used to save a life," says Eric Figueroa, manufacturing supervisor and leader of a plant education committee.

The company usually sends two employees a week, one salaried and one hourly, to view medical procedures using the plant's product. The workers have a chance to ask doctors questions during the visit to gain a better understanding of how the product is used, Figueroa says. Many employees come back with a greater sense of pride in their jobs, according to Figueroa. "What we see is employees are more willing to accept changes and improvements to processes and share ideas to make the plant better," he says.

Cordis also offers patients a chance to tour the plant so they can have an opportunity to thank an employee who had direct contact with the product. Each stent has a tracking number that can be traced back to a particular employee, according to Figueroa, who says the sometimes-tearful encounter is another way to reinforce the impact each employee's job has on the end consumer.

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