Running a business, especially within a time which is economically challenging for businesses and with increased threats from the rising powers of India and China, is not easy. It can feel as if you are constantly running, just to be able to stand still. Meeting production schedules, ensuring that staff are content, making delivery happen, keeping stock levels ‘just right’ are demanding enough. Then on top of that customers have to be kept happy; so how do you do it?

Within the philosophy of Lean thinking, there is a real emphasis on ensuring that costs are driven down, the performance is increased, staff are committed to continuous improvement, waste is eradicated from the whole production process. And the ‘bi-result’ of this? Well, the customer benefits from a company that is efficient, effective (especially cost effective) and who delivers what they want, when they want it! Simple.

But this is not, in fact, ‘simple’. It is actually very difficult to achieve this. It takes time, commitment, due diligence and a lot of effort in order to achieve an optimum stage of efficiency, which then passes on a multitude of benefits to your customers.

Give Platitudes A Pass

Within the field of business management, there can be a danger of reducing some serious business principles to very basic platitudes, which we have all heard. Examples include “Give the Customer what they want” or “The Customer is King”.

Whilst these may give some direction as to how customers can be kept happy, they fail to give any clear indication of what needs to be done to keep customers satisfied and coming back for more! The issue is actually much more complex than the kind of issue that can be resolved through a one line platitude. In essence, there are some fundamental foundation stones that have to be set in place otherwise the relationship between customer and supplier may start off happy but ultimately it may well end in tears.

Trust

Trust is actually a key feature of any contented relationship between a supplier and a customer. The customer has to trust the supplier to provide what has been requested, when it has been agreed and the goods need to be of sufficient quality to be of use to the customer.

Trust cannot be achieved overnight, it needs to be gained and then retained, by the supplier making sure that it delivers as requested and at the right price.

Continuous Improvement

In order to keep the customer happy and to establish trust, any company needs to be firmly and wholly committed to the concept of ongoing and continuous improvement. Without this improvement, it is unlikely that the company will be able to keep its prices competitive or it will not be able to provide items that meet all quality control requirements. No business operates in a vacuum, so any business that fails to address the concept of continuous improvements, is simply giving their competitors an edge. Ultimately competitors will be able to keep customers happier than any business who simply assumes that they are doing everything right!

Mutually Beneficial Relationship

Although historically there was often a very unbalanced power relationship between a customer and their supplier, with power resting very much in the hands of the customer, those days have changed. Currently, the changes that have taken place in procurement have resulted in a relationship that is much more equal and much more involved in being of mutual benefit to both parties. Establishing such a relationship obviously takes time, but it is worth the effort, due to the benefits that it brings.

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