Fired Up: Are you customer-centric?

David VermeulenI’m writing this blog post in the middle of a snowstorm that Seattle news reporters have dubbed “Snowmageddon.” (It’s extreme, I know. I’m from Michigan.) We normally get one to two inches of snow per year in the lowlands. Snow in the rainy Pacific Northwest is a complete and total disruptor.

So, while this snowstorm shuts down the city, let me say it’s sure making for a good lead in for this blog post. If you read my last post, you know I’m a big advocate of technology. It has the potential to push the efficiency of any industry, ours included, to levels not possible five years ago. From supply chain management software to automated loading and handling equipment, it’s adding much needed margin to a thinly stretched industry. But like snow, technology is a disruptor.  Why? It forces us to change the way we do things.

To borrow from another local example, just look at the Amazon effect and how the rise of e-commerce changed the way we shop. Convenience and on-demand customer service have led a continual stream of traditional retail store closures. It’s been such a complete, upending disruption in the retail space that you’ve probably heard people say, “Amazon killed the retail industry.” I like what Alberto Brea, founder/chief growth strategist at RISE, once so controversially said about this matter: “Amazon did not kill the retail industry. They did it to themselves with bad customer service … Technology by itself is not the real disruptor. Being non-customer centric is the biggest threat to any business.”

Let me just repeat that, “Being non-customer centric is the biggest threat to any business.”

Brea hit the nail on the head when he tied technology and customer satisfaction together. His sentiments really resonate as the glass industry steps into a new digital era. Technology is valuable. Immensely valuable. But our business is about people, from the manufacturers and glaziers to the architects. So while technology disruptions propel our industry forward, it’s important to keep in mind that they should never come at the cost of satisfied customers. They should add to their satisfaction. 

Let’s not get myopic when it comes to the people who make our industry tick.  As we consider new technology and methods for improving the way we do things here in the glass biz, are we asking the question, “Is this helping solve an underlying customer-related problem?” 

There’s a lot of ways this answer can unfold. The skilled labor gap is widening. How does the new system you implemented reduce jobsite labor and/or installation to save the customer’s resources? Budgets and job deadlines are tight. How does the new integrated modeling approach you’re using help reduce design errors and callbacks to keep the customer’s project on time and within budget? You improved automation in the factory. How is it improving speed to market while preserving the quality and craftsmanship your customers have come to expect from your products?

Instruction manuals don’t come with new technological advancements, which is why so many businesses get lost along the way. But keeping the customer at the center of it all is the sure way forward. Brea says it best in his follow-up to the controversial post: “Today, technology is at the heart of nearly every transformation, but it is still the means to an end. New technology comes and goes, but the customer-centric principle remains.”

David Vermeulen is the national sales manager for Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. TGP works closely with architects, designers and other building professionals, providing them with the state-of-the-art products, service and support to maximize design aesthetics and safety in commercial and institutional buildings around the world. Contact him at 800/426-0279.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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