If you’ve read some of our past blogs, you may remember us touching on our efforts to become a company that practices lean manufacturing. If you’d like to read more about that, check out our mobile work stations blog. Our company is comprised of two departments, plastic distribution and custom plastic fabrication. This blog is going to focus on the custom fabrication side of the business and the steps we think are important to insure a satisfied customer and profitable project for the company. Anybody that takes custom orders, whether it be jewelry or website design, has experienced how difficult it can be to get the customer exactly what they want on their timeline while making a profit. In examining how we can make our own processes better here at Regal Plastics, we came up with seven tips that we feel really have contributed to an overall more successful custom fabrication experience for the company and our customers.
7. Take pictures of past projects.
Visuals are so helpful when showing a customer what your capabilities are and what the customer can expect their project to look like. We have made the mistake of only taking pictures of large orders or unique show-stopper pieces that we will probably never sell to another customer. While our marketing department loves these photos, they are not always helpful to show more common custom capabilities.
6. Ask Questions
Remind yourself that you are the expert. Do not assume that the customer knows what questions to ask. You should be inquiring about what the project is for, where it will be used, etc. As the expert, it is your job to gain an understanding of their needs and provide advice on the best design and material. If possible, have different samples of colors, materials, and available options for your customer to look at and touch. It can help you and your customer get on the same page.
5. Keep the customer in the loop.
Keep the customer updated and let them know about setbacks that affect the completion date immediately. Unforeseeable events happen. Materials get back ordered. Employees get sick, and machinery breaks down. Remember to call your customer and explain how it affects them and the steps you have already taken to get it resolved. Customers are more understanding when they have the time to process and make adjustments. Do not call them on the day it is supposed to be completed to let them know it’s not done. Now legitimate setbacks sound like lame excuses.
4. Keep accurate records.
Know how much time and material it took you to complete each step of the project. If you have employees, it is a great way to audit how much time individuals are taking on different tasks. We implemented this audit system and we discovered we were grossly undercharging some projects to the point we were actually losing money on them. We also could pinpoint problem areas to either implement a more effective training program or brainstorm how to create more efficient systems. Sometimes that means outsourcing (more on that below) or investing in better equipment. Knowing the hours and costs it took for specific steps gave us the opportunity to develop better cost analysis which in turn reduces risks when we make a big machinery purchase or hire new staff. Also, it can help make quotes more accurate in the future. It is never fun to call a customer and tell them there is going to be a price increase because you drastically underestimated the hours that would be spent on the project.
If there is someone that can do a part of the project better, let them. It may seem counter intuitive to cut into your profit, but is it actually costing you more? This is where accurate record keeping and auditing is very useful. You may find you actually save money and end up with a better end result. Outsourcing is also a great way to build industry connections. You would be surprised to see how many more referrals you’ll get from the companies that you outsource projects to. People love to help those that help their business succeed.
2. Don’t be afraid to say no.
It’s okay to decline a project. Sometimes certain customers are not worth the risk or headache. We’ve all had the “impossible to please” customer where no amount of changes, discounts, or do-overs can make them happy, and they are usually the person that has no problems taking their negative attitude to social media. Business owners understand how detrimental a 1-star Yelp review can be. Also, there may be a customer request that you just do not have in your wheelhouse. Explain what you can do and help them find a person that specializes in what they need. I’m not saying don’t go the extra mile for a good customer, but do be smart about only taking on projects that set you and your employees up for success.
1. Be honest.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but there is so much it encompasses. Always be honest about a products capabilities. If you know that a material is not designed for extended use outside, let them customer know, or if the customer is designing something you know once completed will not look and function like they are expecting, express your concerns. Again, you are the expert so always offer your expert opinion.
Custom fabrication projects will not be perfect every time, but hopefully, these tips will help the customer experience be as perfect as possible.