Talking with successful metal fabricators, I'm beginning to feel that they are the only companies left that remain committed to customer service. Lean manufacturing improvements are all about getting fabricated products to the customer sooner. Investments in engineering personnel and tools are made to offer more design expertise to those customers looking to trim costs from a part. Investments in capital equipment help to produce fabricated parts more accurately and efficiently, which in turn helps improve on-time deliveries and customer satisfaction.
Obviously, I know that some people will forfeit good customer service for a low-cost supplier. Think about the OEMs that rely on foreign-sourced stamped parts and have to deal with suspect quality and late deliveries. It's amazing what's been sacrificed in the name of saving a dollar.
If you have guessed that an act of poor customer service has set me off, you are correct. I won't name the consumer electronics store that inspired this post, but I will say it's not the best buy I've ever made.
It started two weeks ago when I went to schedule an appointment to have a car stereo installed in my wife's 2005 Chrysler Pacifica. She wants to hook her iPod up directly to the car stereo, but the stock car stereo doesn't have an auxiliary jack.
On a weekday evening I showed up and found no one in the mobile electronics section of the store. I tracked down someone, and he set Feb. 15 as the installation date, which was great because it was right after Valentine's Day. I was told to go online to purchase the dashboard kit because the store doesn't stock one, and I bough the car stereo I wanted installed because it was on sale. Everything looked good.
On Feb. 15, I took a half day of vacation so I could deliver the car for stereo installation. I showed up promptly at 1 p.m. and rang the doorbell near the entry for the mobile electronics area at the rear of the store. As instructed, I rang it once and waited because I was told it makes an awful sound in the store and would be impossible to ignore. At 1:07 p.m. I rang it again and repeated the action at 1:17 p.m.
With no answer, I drove around to the front of the store and walked in, looking for help. A security guard and two salespeople were at the front entrance, and I explained my situation. The security guard replied, "Did you try and open the door?" I was embarrassed at that point, sheepishly walked out, and drove my car to the rear again.
I turned the door handle. Locked. I sighed and started the on-and-off-again bell ringing. At 1:34 p.m. I drove back to the front of the store, walked in, and told the trio of blabbering buffoons that I'd just walk to the back of the store to look for the car stereo installer. "That's sounds about right," the security guard said to me.
I went to the mobile electronics sales area and found the installer talking with a customer. Apparently, the buzzer didn't annoy either of them. I waited 10 minutes until he was done and told him I was ready to drop the car off. "Oh, Mr. Davis, you didn't get the message?" he asked.
Apparently, someone sold the only wiring harness for a Chrysler Pacifica the night before, and he called my home number to notify me on the morning of the scheduled installation. Unfortunately, I was not home at the time, and I had not left my mobile number.
At least the kid called. Moe, Larry, and Curly in the front proved to be as helpful as the doorbell no one could hear.
Of course, this is the same store that sold me a high-definition television six years ago with a digital video recorder that wasn't compatible with high-definition signals. I shouldn't have been surprised.
Why did I engage this company again? The big-box store is convenient, and the prices look like a deal. I've sold my soul to the corporate giant, and the price appears to be customer service.
I hope that doesn't happen to the U.S. industrial base. Multinational companies with U.S. headquarters and their manufacturing arms and partners have experienced business in low-cost countries. In some cases, those relationships make sense, but in others, I think they simply are chasing pennies. That's a scenario that doesn't bode well for the future of manufacturing in the U.S.
If you think customer service doesn't make a difference, think about Toyota's current plight. From what I hear, some U.S. metal formers have been instrumental in quickly creating some of the repair parts for the automaker. Toyota knows that it's difficult to put a price on good customer service. Others need to learn that lesson.