Written by: Paul Van Metre
I continue to see a ton of chatter going on right now about the challenge of attracting qualified employees to come and work for manufacturing companies. While there still aren’t any miracle cures for that problem, I've previously written some blogs you might find helpful. Such as:
• "5 Ways to Mitigate the Lack of Skilled Machinists"
• "Attracting the Employees Everybody Wants"
• "Your Shop Needs a Better People Plan"
• "How to Do a Better Job at Recruiting Employees"
I won't deny that there's still much work to be done to address the shortage of skilled labor, build excitement about domestic manufacturing, and attract young people to the trade. That said, I'd like to talk about an aspect of this issue that doesn’t get as much airtime:
Setting up new hires to be effective and successful in their role
Finding qualified workers is important, but without a plan to help them prosper in their new role, chances are they'll move on from your company before too long. You'll have lost time, and money and be right back to posting that job ad on Indeed. As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression, so putting your best foot forward with a new hire is the first important task to having great employee retention.
If you've ever been a new employee that is under-equipped to succeed, you can likely relate well to the problem. The constant need to ask questions about your job can certainly influence your self-esteem. Everyone wants to be competent in their role and feel like they are contributing to the objectives of the team. As an employer or manager responsible for the onboarding process, you can likely relate to the pain of not having an effective onboarding plan in place. Throwing new hires onto the busy shop floor and expecting them to absorb the needed information by osmosis is not a winning strategy. Placing your new hires in the business of reading minds is neither effective nor kind.
Let's unpack this further:
It doesn't matter if it’s on the production floor or in shipping and receiving; successfully training and onboarding a new employee can be a difficult and long process if you allow it to be. As an employer, you want to see a return on investment for the wages that you are paying your team members. If you don't have an efficient onboarding process (or any process at all, for that matter), that return might not be realized for many months after bringing on a new hire, and the returns might be negligible at best.
This can feel frustrating for the whole team, especially when the shop floor is busy. The unnecessary friction can lead to costly mistakes. Those responsible for training that new employee might feel overwhelmed answering a multitude of questions, sometimes the same questions repeatedly, in addition to completing their regular daily work.
Let's stop here and make an important point: It's not the new hire's fault.
As the leader(s) of the organization, it's your responsibility to develop an efficient and effective onboarding process. New employees need ready access to the information and tools needed to do their job well. This is as true for new hires as it is for existing employees transitioning into new roles. Will an effective onboarding process eliminate all the challenges associated with onboarding? Probably not, but you'll surely stack the deck in your favor! (For the employee, too)
When implementing something new for the first time, it's best to start with the low-hanging fruit. Having your process written out in a standardized way is important to keep track of it and to improve it over time. You could create something as simple as a Google Doc, which contains links to various training videos and internal training documents. That process could be replicated for each unique position in the company, and every shop can do that! That said, we believe that ProShop users have a distinct advantage when it comes to developing a successful onboarding strategy.
How can ProShop help?
If you're already using ProShop as a centralized hub of information to efficiently run your shop, it only makes sense that your onboarding process lives there too. How? by leveraging ProShop's Part and Work Order functions like you do for any customer machined component. Existing ProShop customers such as Hill MFG, JJR Fabrication, and Focused on Machining have successfully developed an onboarding training process this way with great results!
By issuing a part number for employee training, you can define an order of operations that include all required aspects of the job training process. This could include materials such as:
• Workplace safety training
• Information about the org chart
• Internal training documents linked from ProShop's built-in company training manual
• Links to external training resources such as NIMS or NTMA-U
• YouTube videos that detail tasks such as trimming a vice or how to read measuring tools
• Titans of CNC machining tutorials
• Training related to ISO and other process compliance
There's really no limit. Using our multiple routings feature, you can customize the onboarding experience for each unique role. When you hire a new team member, create a ProShop user for them and issue them a training Work Order related to the responsibilities of their position with the relevant routing. Ask for feedback. Refine those training part numbers over time. Measure their effectiveness. Refine them some more.
By making these onboarding documents readily available, new hires can re-visit them as needed instead of having to ask a fellow team member. When they do ask questions that aren't covered in the onboarding material, that's an opportunity to add that information in for the next new hire, further strengthening the process.
This might take some time to set up on the front end, but remember, you're investing in a process that will pay dividends over time. By investing in a robust onboarding process, you'll not only reduce your own frustration and training costs, but you'll enable that new hire to be effective at their job in a shorter amount of time. Employees who feel like they are contributing to the organization in a meaningful way experience higher job satisfaction and tend to stick around longer. Everybody wins.
Remember, the pain of attracting new talent to your machine shop is greatly reduced when you can retain employees for a longer period of time. You can nurture those employees into more senior positions as other team members move on or retire. Yes, there's more to employee retention than an efficient and effective onboarding process. That said, helping new hires enjoy a sense of competency and some early wins will certainly go a long way to maintaining satisfaction in their role, as well as a hunger to advance within the company. A robust onboarding strategy is just one more tool in the toolbox of a proactive people plan to bolster the future success of your machine shop.
Written by: Paul Van Metre
As I talk with shop owners, see their posts on social media, and even talk with my guests on the Machine Shop Mastery Podcast, I’ve been noticing a trend for the last several months that I believe is accelerating. As I ponder what I’m seeing, the phrase “Haves and Have Nots'' comes to mind. That term is generally used to describe the difference between rich people and poor people. But in this context, I think it goes a lot deeper. Ultimately it certainly does describe the difference between how wealthy the owners of these shops will end up being. This is a universally true dynamic in any industry. There will be companies that thrive and generate tremendous wealth for their stakeholders, and there will be those that go bankrupt and wipe out the life savings of those brave entrepreneurs whose dream was to start their own shops. The latter is a tragic and avoidable outcome in many cases. Let’s dig into what I think is happening and what can be done to change the outcomes for those on the Have Not side of the equation.
I’ve seen a widening disparity between how busy machine shops are. Some have had a record-breaking 2022 with significant growth over 2021 and record revenue and profits. They are going into 2023 with large backlogs of high-quality, good margin work. Many can’t buy machines or hire people fast enough to meet the demand. As the old saying goes, the sun is shining, and they are making hay!
Unfortunately, this situation isn’t universal by any means. On the flip side, I’ve seen many shops that are not having the same outcomes. Many are sharing that they have “open spindle time” and can offer fast turnarounds. This is a euphemism for “we are nearly out of work.” Some more candid shop owners say they are struggling to make ends meet. They are looking at layoffs, or if they’re very small shops, even having the owner get a day job just to help cover the expenses of the shop and their families. I’ve even seen a few shop owners say they are getting out of the business and putting their equipment up for sale. It’s those posts that pain me the most. I just know that there have been countless late nights at the kitchen table talking with their spouses about what they can do to save their businesses. These shop owners feel like they are failing themselves, their employees, and their families. The dream of being their own boss and owning a thriving business hasn’t panned out. And our economy needs more, not fewer, shops to meet the demands of re-shoring.
This situation is very complicated and isn’t caused by any one single thing. I’ve even seen shops doing all the right things but still not having the financial success that other shops are having. I know very savvy business owners who are still struggling, so I want to assure all of you that this article isn’t designed to cast shame on anyone who isn’t rolling in work and profits right now. It’s complicated and very difficult!! I’ve always said that machine shops are the hardest types of businesses to run, and I think it’s just getting more true with every passing year.
Here are a few things that I believe are contributing to this situation.
Being/Not Being a Sales-Driven Organization
In 2002 our machine shop, Pro CNC, nearly went bankrupt. We went from having lots of work to almost nothing in a matter of months after the 9/11 attacks. We didn’t have enough variety of clients and industries we served. We weren’t a sales-driven company. We would do sales and some marketing, but only when things got slow. When the shop got busy, we would stop doing sales and marketing, which invariably led to a dip in sales a few months later. It was a vicious feast or famine cycle that killed our profitability. After 9/11, we couldn’t do enough new selling fast enough to make a difference and keep our team employed. We had to do layoffs after the owners stopped taking any paychecks for several months.
I see many (most?) machine shops that are not sales-driven. And marketing isn’t even something they ever think about. The more mature ones have been lucky enough to get in a niche or on the supplier list of a few good customers and have ridden that horse for years. But it’s starting to catch up with them. The monumental shifts in the supply chain post Covid, have both positive and negative trends for North America. Mostly it seems to be positive, with lots of re-shoring happening, but it’s not equal. Some industries are doing much better than others, and the shops that are diversified into many seem to be doing the best. To be honest, the ones serving medical, commercial space, and defense are doing the best of all.
Inconsistent Adoption of Technology
Technology can be a major driver of efficiency and hence profitability. More profitable shops can invest in more technology - hardware and software. They’re buying new 5-axis pallet pool machines that can efficiently churn out small volumes of complex parts very quickly. They are buying zero-point tooling that is very flexible, fast, and accurate. They’re buying high-end tool holders that give them longer tool life and accuracy. They’re buying new shop management software, quality management software, and others that help reduce labor costs, cut lead times, and dramatically increase efficiency. They can serve clients better with fewer people. They can therefore be cost effective, winning more work with good margins and still investing lots of money back into technology. It’s a positive upward spiral of goodness that is very hard to beat.
On the other hand, many shops are buying more inexpensive machines like vertical mills and 2-3 axis lathes with the goal to “add spindles.” These machines often sit idle 75% of the time, require skilled labor to keep them running, and aren’t driving more efficiency. They conceptually drive capacity, but only when scarce labor is available to load and unload them. For very small shops, more spindles do allow higher revenue to be generated, but often create a hamster wheel of busyness for the owners who have essentially bought themselves a job. However, this model can still be highly successful when the proper business processes are in place. I visited a shop last week with mostly VMCs, and they were growing very fast, were very profitable, and had a huge backlog. They also used ProShop, so they were paperless, lean, and highly efficient. They were very sales driven also, and their clients loved how technology focused they were. It was a very successful recipe.
Technology-driven machine shops attract clients who care about such things and are willing to pay for it, like the shop described above. Especially when that technology can reduce risk for the client. When you find a prospective client that will send out a quality team to audit your company, then you know the potential revenue from that client could be substantial enough to justify the expense of adding your shop to their approved vendor list. That audit team will look for chaos, which many shops have plenty of when you pull back the curtain. But if you can show them a well-run, technology and process-driven company, with a well organized team focused on continuous improvement and exceeding customer expectations, you have a very high chance of winning a substantial new customer and being one of those shops in the “Have” category. Suppose you aren’t a shop like that, and you’re still working with basic machines, paper-based manual processes, and too much reliance on the owners and bottleneck individuals to get things done. In that case, I’m sorry to say, it’ll be a much steeper uphill battle to win those lucrative clients, and you’re much more likely to be in the “Have Not” category. I understand that there seems to be a catch-22 to getting in the “Have” category - nobody said it was easy.
Cybersecurity Will Make or Break Shops
Cybersecurity will become a make-or-break topic for many shops in the near future. Those that serve the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) or any US government sector will be required to achieve CMMC certification. And even companies who don’t will likely see similar requirements show up on their RFPs and contracts from clients who are similarly concerned about their data security. In fact, I’ve heard from many shops who say that these requirements are already showing up on RFQs, and they aren’t able to bid on those jobs if they can’t show compliance or progress to the standards. Those shops keeping their heads in the sand are starting to pay the price.
For shops that do a small amount of defense work, they’ll need to decide if the cost of gaining certification will be worth the business in that sector. It will not be inexpensive, and they’ll need to make a hard decision on whether to go for it or retreat and focus on other industries. The strength of the defense and space industries is very tempting, but the regulations are serious business and a significant cost driver.
You Can Become a “Have” Shop!
I recognize that I painted a pretty stark image of shops that fall into the “Have Not” category. My intention isn’t to beat up on anyone or any type of shop. I do intend to keep it real and not sugarcoat things. We all have to start somewhere, and most have very modest means like we did. When we started our shop, we could only afford one CNC vertical mill, and everything else was manual equipment. But we quickly learned what drove efficiency, what made us attractive to customers, and what set us apart from our competitors. When we could afford it, we bought more automated machines and technology. We became deeply sales and marketing driven. We focused heavily on continuous improvement. We built a world-class culture, so we had almost no employee turnover. We focused on building robust and scalable processes that were highly efficient. And we had the benefit of the “backbone” of our growth - ProShop.
Everything I just mentioned is available to any shop. Most of it requires a shift of perspective and a lot of hard work. But I know every shop out there today has the opportunity to become a thriving, profit machine that exceeds the owner’s expectations and goals. The long-term prospects for precision manufacturing in North America are exceptionally good, with very strong demand for a very long time. I’m a champion and cheerleader for every shop out there and hope that my thoughts inform, inspire and provide a perspective that is helpful for all shops to find their way to great success.
How can ProShop Help?
ProShop has become the backbone of our client's companies. It helps them drive efficiency, instill confidence in their customers, set their shops apart from the competition, meet regulatory requirements with ease, reduce cost, keep their data safe and secure, improve their cultures, build robust processes, win new business, and become significantly more profitable. It can help with all the categories above and helps ProShop customers thrive and grow. We’d love to help your shop get these things dialed in and strongly in the “Have” category.
Written by: Paul Van Metre
What even is a zero prep audit? To me, it means you can welcome any auditor into your company any day. You feel confident about passing the audit with flying colors without any extra work to get ready. I believe every company should aspire to zero prep audits. But for many, it’s not even a concept that seems within reach. Audits, whether for AS9100, from customers, or any other standard you’ve been accredited to, are often a frantic scramble for days or weeks in advance, trying to get your normal day job done while catching up on internal audits, completing outstanding quality tasks, and general cleanup of documentation that hasn't been kept current and tidy during the preceding months. This is not only a very disruptive process for getting your regular work done, but more importantly, it underscores a weakness in the business systems that will be audited. When business processes and records are not kept up to date and maintained, that generates risk in the business. A risk that, at best, is a low-level liability and, at worst, can severely threaten the business.
And to be clear, I am not talking about the very first audits when you go to gain certification for the first time. Those are always going to be a bunch of work. There's no way to get around the fact that it takes many, many hours of hard work to become certified to any standard in the first place. The types of audits that I'm talking about are surveillance audits or recertification audits to any standard. The type that comes up every year during the normal course of business. This would also apply to customer audits where a customer visits your shop to determine if your company has what it takes to make it or be retained on their approved supplier list. Both of these types of audits should be zero prep work. You should be audit-ready all the time.
Let’s use ISO 9001 or AS9100 as our example. Most companies hold their QMS documentation in Word Documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PDF files stored within folders on their network. For many, they still exist in paper form in binders and filing cabinets. In either case, the necessary daily tasks of creating objective evidence of them doing the work they say they do to meet the standard is a very cumbersome process. This often means it doesn’t get done at all in real-time, hence the problem. Here are a few examples of daily tasks that often don’t happen on the schedule they are supposed to happen on:
• Performing thorough risk assessment and contract review for new orders
• Cleaning up and closing Non-Conformance Reports quickly
• Completing Corrective Actions in a timely manner
• Sending out Vendor Audits and report cards
• Documenting management meetings and following up on required actions
• Ensuring that all your vendor material certs are filed and linked to your jobs
• Cleaning up work orders to make sure that everyone has signed off on their respective sections
• Internal audits of the business and its processes
• Calibration of gages and instruments
Think about your own company and all those categories above. Do you do all those things in a timely manner? If you’re like most, then the answer is no. This means you aren’t audit ready today, and you can’t have a zero prep audit.
The most important aspect of all those things not being done on time is not the scramble you’re going to have to go through when the audit time comes. That’s no fun, but the real problem is the risk you’re exposing yourself to by not doing those things on time. Let’s go through a few examples from the list above.
1. Not doing risk assessments - You accept an order that has some requirements for DFARS material that you overlooked. You order any old material and get some that is not DFARS compliant. After you make the parts, they get rejected by your customer. You’ve lost a huge amount of money and trust with your client.
2. Not cleaning up NCRs - You have some NCRs on a critical job which, when analyzed more carefully, indicated a very unstable process that you didn’t catch. You sent bad parts to your customer that hadn’t been caught in your inspection process.
3. Late closing CARs - A long overdue CAR didn’t reveal a weakness in your incoming inspection process, which allowed several work orders to pass through with non-conforming products from an outside vendor resulting in thousands of dollars of scrap parts.
4. Not keeping up on management reviews - You haven’t performed your monthly management review in a while. Because you missed doing this in a timely manner, you didn’t notice that your KPI for on-time delivery for a large client had slid to an unacceptable level. They disqualified you as an approved supplier, meaning you’ve lost 30% of your total company revenue overnight.
Those scenarios may be exaggerated, but these types of things happen every day at shops all over the world. Major negative outcomes are possible when the company isn’t performing to the required standards. Any company with a certification like AS9100 must eventually keep on top of those things to maintain their certification. So why let it slide and put your company at risk? Most people would say that things are too busy to do all the work on time. But the reality is your company is strongest, with the least risk, and with the least amount of stress on the employees when you can stay audit ready all the time! There simply isn’t an excuse not to do it on time and always be audit-ready. If your systems are holding you back, then it’s time for an upgrade.
How can ProShop Help? We’ve heard repeatedly that ProShop can reduce the daily workload burden of the Quality Manager in a shop by around 50%. That means there is plenty of time to get the clerical work done efficiently (paperlessly!) and spend a lot more time on tactical quality activities - improving quality, improving business processes - reducing risk. The same is true with the rest of the team. When everyone is not dealing with paper and inefficient business processes, there is a lot more time to do everything right and focus on improving the process. Every day isn’t a firefight, with barely enough time to get late jobs out the door and customers barely satisfied with your company's performance. When you have the time to be more proactive, and stay on top of important items, the improvements in the business will compound and be a positive upward trend, leading to increased productivity, performance and profitability. These are just a few of the most important outcomes of being ready for a zero prep audit.
Written by: Paul Van Metre
I recently attended the NTMA Engage 2022 conference, where I talked with many shop owners. Most lamented that they were so busy (a good problem to have), but they had a hard time finding workers. I heard many of them talk about how they had lost key people, had long-term employees retire after years, and weren’t getting enough traction with their job ads. If you’re like these shop owners you’re likely in a similar situation.
These are real issues that have a significant impact on your businesses. You have to turn down work, push out due dates on customer jobs, leave machines sitting idle and forgo revenue that you could otherwise generate if they had more employees. What would your company look like today if you weren’t having issues with labor?
These challenges have been a long time coming. And they’ve been a result of both internal and external circumstances. The good news is that you can solve these issues with careful planning, so they aren’t a major impediment to your growth. Most shops haven’t solved this problem, but some have, and so can you!
External Forces Affecting Your Employee Problems
As author and speaker Chris Czarnick so clearly communicates, with the aging of the baby boomers, it’s a mathematical certainty that our workforce will have fewer workers than it did previously and what we need to meet the demand of our companies now and going forward. Especially in manufacturing, which still has an image problem, with not enough young people and their parents excited about careers in manufacturing. That image problem is improving, but not at the rate it needs to, and certainly not at the rate needed to solve your employee issue next month or next year. Given this, you will be competing with other shops for your employees if you hire people with prior experience in machine shops.
Internal Forces Affecting Your Employee Problems
Of course, there is a whole spectrum of shops with different cultures and ways they manage and treat their employees. From the best shops that inspire, challenge, and care for their employees in a way that makes employees feel valued, like part of a family. Those employees aren’t out looking for new jobs. So when a headhunter message is received they dismiss it because they are happy and don’t want to leave their jobs. These shops have created a gravity that pulls employees to them all the time. They are known in their regions for being a great place to work, and they have far fewer problems with recruiting and retaining employees than the average shop.
Then there are the shops whose owners micromanage, insult, pressure, and don’t trust or empower their employees. They treat them like crap, believing that the employees are there to serve them and do their bidding how and when they say. These people are dead wrong, and it is not a winning strategy. You’d better believe that with the head hunter calls, those employees would be happy to take the call. They’re happy to change jobs to get a few more bucks an hour. Remember, people don’t leave their jobs. They leave managers. These shops will constantly be fighting to retain staff and will always be limited in their growth potential because of it.
But most companies are in the middle of these two extremes. They have owners who care, generally do a decent job, and treat their employees with kindness most of the time, but they still have a lot of room for improvement. Many companies have been going about their long-term employee issues without much strategic thinking. Not putting a ton of consideration into the overall age of their workforce, succession planning, key employee retention, training, technology, etc. They have tried traditional, somewhat half-hearted efforts to recruit and retain. If you walk around many of these shops you might notice a lot of 50+ year old workers, which means that all that experience and knowledge will leave the company before too long. How does your company look in comparison?
Assess your Workforce Situation
Make a list of the people in your company, especially your leaders, and note their roles, approximate ages, and years before retirement. Now let's answer these questions:
1. Does it paint the picture of a company that has a deep management team with many years left before retirement?
2. Do you clearly identify individuals who expect to rise through the ranks to take over those leadership positions when the old guard retires?
3. Do you have documented plans for what you’ll do when those older workers leave, who may only have a few years left?
4. Are you successfully recruiting a younger workforce to backfill employees who may be moving into management positions?
5. Do you have a formal training program to help upskill those younger employees?
6. How are you capturing that vital knowledge that those older workers have? Is it in a very accessible format to help maximize the knowledge transfer to younger workers?
Take it a Step Further
Create an actual org chart of your team and fill in all the employees in their current roles. Next to their names, write a number approximately representing how much training/knowledge they need for their role. You can do this on a whiteboard, spreadsheet, or some free flowchart software online. But the exercise is to identify where your gaps are currently and where gaps will be created when your aging workforce retires.
Step Up Your Recruiting Game
I’m not going to try to lay out all the steps that Chris Czarnik outlines in his book Winning the War for Talent, but it might be one of the most important books you read in years. But in a nutshell, do the following:
1. Develop personas of the type of employees you want to hire. Do this by talking to your current team, studying personality profiles, and figure out what makes these people tick.
2. Craft very strategic job ads that speak to these personas. Your application rate will be higher, with the right type of people.
3. Once hired, give employees a place where they can thrive and feel fulfilled in their work. Pay them fairly, treat them great, and let them do their best work. Pay is only not in the top 2-3 reasons why people leave jobs.
Develop Your People Plan
After successfully attracting and retaining the right people, you need a longer term strategic plan for growing those team members to be your future leaders. Getting them upskilled into the roles they will grow into and getting tribal knowledge captured in a systematic way. This is the hardest part of the whole process but probably the most important one. There is so much riding on the outcome of this process.
How can ProShop Help?
ProShop can be a great recruiting tool! Just hear from these shops who’ve done that. But we can’t help much with developing your personas. Once hired, ProShop’s Training module and Company Positions module can really help with helping you to visualize your training gaps/needs and help manage the training process for your whole team.
And it goes without saying, that when your team is increasing your company throughput by 25% on average by not searching for lost job travelers, getting frustrated by not having needed information at their fingertips, and having to deal with obsolete information caused by paper-based processes, that’s a lot of frustration that can be eliminated, so you and your team can focus on winning! And people love to be on a winning team!
Written by: Paul Van Metre
People are accustomed to getting what they want, when they want it, the exact way they want it. Like their favorite: Triple, Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat Soy, Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks. If they get it the same way 100 times, and then all of a sudden it’s different one day, watch out! You’re likely to have an unhappy customer! It’s because people want reliability and consistency in their lives. They don’t like unexpected surprises or things to be different than what they are used to.
The same is true with your customers. When they do business with you, they will have certain expectations that they expect you to meet, time and time again. Those expectations will often be driven by a few different things, including how you’ve interacted with them in the past and what you tell them will happen in the future. Ultimately, your customer is in the business of reducing their risk, so they can do their job and serve their customers. Your shop is one link in the supply chain, which can be very fragile at times, and if you don’t follow through on the expectations they have for you, things can go downhill fast.
Setting Expectations Early
Expectations start building when you first meet your customer. What is your brand image? How do you portray your company and how do you interact with your prospects? Everyone tries to be very responsive to new prospects or customers because you want to earn their trust and ultimately their business. And people like it when you are responsive and attentive to them. They’ll be paying attention to what you say. If you tell them you’ll email them a list of references on Friday, you’d better send that on Friday or before. If you don’t send it until the following Tuesday, they’ll mark that up in the column of negatives that you don’t follow through on things you say.
Expectations will continue to be built when you quote jobs for those customers. Again, they’ll look for a timely return of your quotes. They’ll look for professionalism in your quotation, your language, your correspondence, and your adherence to any other requirements they included in their RFQ to you. And they’ll look to see what lead times or dates you’ve quoted them for delivery of the job. Assuming everything checks out and they like what they’re seeing, you might win the job.
When the order is received, they’ll be looking for things like how quickly you acknowledge the order and then how/if you confirm all the details including if you say you will deliver on the timeline you quoted to them or any other pertinent details about the order.
Be Honest and Candid
I wrote in the past about delivering bad news to clients, and this is another very key point about managing expectations. You must always be honest with customers. Full stop. Lying about the status of jobs or being less than candid is never a good option. And the bad news doesn’t age well, so always be very proactive in delivering less than positive news in a timely manner. And have a recovery plan already in place when you contact your customers to deliver bad news.
From that point forward, they’ll expect your parts will be delivered within the on-time delivery window, and they won’t need to hear from you until that time. Unless they have a lower level of trust with you and they may want regular status updates on their orders.
When a customer is looking for information or an answer from you, they don’t want to wait long to get the answer. If they call you on the phone, the ideal case is that you can provide them with the information before you even hang up. We had one customer do this in spectacular fashion recently, giving his client detailed information from the side of the road on his phone. It was an amazing move on his part, significantly increased their trust in his company and improved the expectations of how responsive he could be to his customer. If you can’t get them the information on the phone, then follow up with them as soon as you can, and provide them with the information they need for their decision-making. Making them wait hours or days is never a good idea. Getting rid of paper job travelers is a critical step in getting information back to your customers a lot faster.
Listen and be Proactive
As mentioned before, clients are in the business of reducing risk. So they will communicate with you about things that are important to them or that they care about. Listen carefully for those signals and build processes to ensure that you are going to manage those needs and concerns proactively. When they see you reaching out to them before they need to ask you questions, or for a status update, their expectations will have been exceeded, and they’ll consider your shop a lower risk option than others. And where do you expect they will want to place work in the future?
How Can ProShop Help?
Many of the things I mentioned above require a fair bit of process to ensure that they happen reliably and consistently. That is, doing it the same/right way, every time. And it requires much more access to real-time information. ProShop is an ERP system designed in a machine shop environment and helps build repeatable processes and automation to help you ensure that you are getting your customers precisely what they need, when they need it, in the lightest way possible. Freeing up your time to spend it doing more important things like getting parts made and out the door on time.