The voice of the customer is broadcasted through many channels back to the supplier. Traditionally only a few employees are formally engaged to receive the message. Opportunities to better serve the customer can be improved by making it clear that all customer feedback is critical to capture no matter the role of the employee. Creating a culture that is customer facing is transformative for not only the customer but for your company as well.
A powerful approach to creating solid communication links with the customer is to send employees to the customer’s facility. They will meet the customer's employees while learning about their processes and challenges. This is best implemented when there is a “mission specific” task that needs to be completed. For example, sending an engineer to design a solution or review the feasibility of an application is a great opportunity to send an employee to a customer’s facility. Dispatching an assembly mechanic to do service work on your equipment at a customer factory is another example.
Benefits of On Site Engagement
Ownership – Employees feel a connection to that customer because of the time spent in their facility learning the process and meeting the people. Employees become advocates for that customer having made an investment in learning about the company and the relationships they have built. Very often the employee will make a personal commitment to follow up or fix an issue. This personal connection creates a sense of ownership.
Inclusion – The employee feels that they are valued and are contributing to the project creates inclusion. This is a powerful motivator for an employee to know they are affiliated with an important venture. They feel that they are part of the big picture. People identify themselves by the work they do. Sharing stories with friends about flying to Ecuador to contribute to a project for a customer is a boost to their esteem.
Growth Outside the Comfort Zone – Challenging an employee to do something different by traveling to a new place to engage their knowledge has huge benefits. It’s not business as usual, which will instill a keen sense of awareness and survival. What was learned will be deeply etched in their minds while also sharing their experiences with other employees.
Cross training – Sending an engineer with a salesperson will help the engineer understand what challenges are associated with the sales process. Quite often the challenges are technical and may provide insight on how the engineer can help educate or better define a product. Some of the best sales people come from the technical trades. It is a great way to test the abilities for potential sales people. Encourage written trip reports to challenge and hone communication skills.
Unfiltered feedback – With time spent at the customer’s facility you will gain access to people that are willing to share information. You will also get a chance to observe visual cues on how well the product is performing. You might even get a chance to hear about the competitor’s strengths and weaknesses. Granted, employees need to be coached on how to receive this information and not defend. However, this unfiltered gold can be used to strengthen your organization.
Lead with confidence that the efforts made to engage employees on mission specific customer visits will have long term benefits. The incremental costs are marginal. I am a true believer that, Sales makes the first sale but the organization makes the second sale. Engage!