What had been the traditional role of customer service in the melting industry in previous years?
In the past, suppliers viewed responsiveness and developing friendly relationships with foundry managers as the key ingredient in customer service. That was often sufficient in maintaining a customer’s loyalty. Competition among crucible suppliers for example probably wasn’t as fierce as it is today, and therefore customers tended to stay with a supplier if service was adequate. Things have changed quite a bit over the past 10 years.
So how have support and service needs of your customers changed in recent years?
Budgets are much tight and more than ever customers expect measureable value and efficiencies from all of their suppliers. Competition, costs and reliability are driving everything. Today there is a laundry list of post-sales services foundry managers are seeking… at the very highest level. These include ensuring product quality, responsiveness, training, technical support, on-time delivery and reliability. These are not extra benefits offered to customers; rather, at minimum this is what customers expect from suppliers and what we are committed to provide.
What have you found to be the most important aspects of customer service today?
We recently surveyed a number of our customers and distributors looking for an accurate snapshot of what are the most critical services we could offer. What we saw consistently throughout the survey results was a priority of on time delivery of product, a full range of technical support, immediate resolution of any issues and of course product reliability. Customers are looking to us (suppliers) for leadership in the way of product design and increased productivity. Needless to say, down time is their biggest enemy. And although price is always an issue, the idea of quality, reliability and expertise drives their concerns.
Are you aware of any trends taking place (or do you anticipate any taking place) regarding customer expectations?
We’re finding more than ever that the specific needs of customers often vary over and above traditional support. For example, some customers may be looking for financial assistance; others may be discussing the need to reduce fuel consumption or are anxious to see faster identification of existing and potential problems. Although price and operational costs have always been a factor, customers are demanding increased savings and looking to suppliers to lead the way. This means that we had better be in the forefront of dynamic innovation, improved manufacturing processes and even better quality control. Also, customers are looking for suppliers to “partner” with them from day one, working closely from inventory control right through to product use and follow up. And then of course there is the increasingly important issue of the environment. We suppliers should be leading the green movement in the foundry industry.
In what ways do service and support impact customer operations?
Of course it begins with quality – quality products and quality technical assistance. There are no substitutes for that. Yet one of the more significant ways - often overlooked – is that positive, reliable customer service builds good faith and good will over the long term. That sets at ease the minds of foundry managers and enables them to feel comfortable and confident about their operations. Expert technical advice and immediate responses save time and dollars for foundries, often resulting in reduced down time. Customers don’t have the time nor inclination to change suppliers, and therefore it is imperative they feel good about who they are dealing with.
What steps are MorganMMS taking to enhance the delivery of improved services to customers?
All of us supplying product to foundries recognize that today’s foundry customers are no longer just older industrial operations melting metal. They are sophisticated business managers who seek out long-term and trusting relationships they can depend on. They are looking for melting solutions and new ideas to help them be more productive and competitive. That means a supplier like MorganMMS has to be on top of its game regarding enhanced technical support, product innovation, new operational concepts, Based on what we’ve heard from customers over the past couple of years, MMMS has adopted a focused customer support strategy that is taking the entire concept of customer service to another level. For example, we recently established a unique Complaint Management System designed to identify the root causes of customer support problems and oversee quick and decisive corrective actions. We are focusing on simplifying the entire customer service operation, from quote submittal, order entry and order confirmation to the tracking of deliveries. And we’ve made a major commitment to dramatically improving response time, reduced lead times and on-time delivery. We’re taking these actions out of the “promise” stage and in fact implementing all of them.
Is there anything relatively new to our industry that Morgan is employing with the goal of streamlining operations and thereby improving services to customers?
We’re excited over our industry leadership in the area of SAP. (Translated from its original German, SAP is Systems, Applications and Products). Initially, SAP was developed in the early 1970s for the purpose of creating standard application software for real-time business processing. It has since been greatly enhanced many times over to include any number of business operations. For example, Molten Metal Systems has already implemented a number of functional modules that include Production Planning; Materials Management; Finance & Controlling; Quality Management and Sales & Distribution.
Today, many mid- to large-size companies worldwide outside our industry use SAP software to run the majority of their day-to-day business transactions and processes. By adopting SAP in an older industry like crucible development, Molten Metal Systems will implement a company-wide system, or ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solution that can literally run an entire enterprise more efficiently, bringing added value to our customers. As examples, we expect to see:
- Better monitoring & tracking of customer orders
- Order acknowledgements sent to customer on same day
- Ease of getting material delivery schedules from production
- Increased visibility in production
- Logistics integrated with financial system
- Reductions in inventory levels
- Reductions in changeovers
- More efficient budgeting
- Improved monitoring of lead times
- Computerized generation of analytical reports like ABC analysis, inventory turnover, slow moving and dead stock, inventory analysis & lead time calculations
Through SAP, we anticipate achieving dramatic improvements throughout our enterprise which, in turn, will mean improved service and more cost-effective operations for our customers’ foundry operations. Peter Viens is President, Molten Metal Systems, Wallingford, CT, a business of Morgan Advanced Materials.