The pandemic along with the ongoing supply chain issues has placed manufacturers under further pressure, but one vital element is being overlooked which could prove even more costly. Luke Smoothy, Founder and Director of London-based manufacturing partner Get It Made, urges businesses to prioritise customer service in a climate that demands it now more than ever.

During these unprecedented times when parts availability remains patchy and lead times stretch out, businesses have taken a battering, placing the supplier-customer relationship under scrutiny. It’s now an altogether different ball game from yesteryear, as the economic climate attempts to steady itself. While the manufacturing industry fights to find terra firma, there are ways in which it can assert some control and in fact, seize as a golden opportunity by focusing on a key area which is often erroneously forgotten, at worst woefully neglected – that of customer service.

The long and short of it is, customer service in manufacturing must no longer be viewed as a value add-on but a necessity. Embracing a more customer-centric approach might sound obvious and a no-brainer, but it never ceases to surprise just how many businesses, particularly while trying to fight for survival and develop an ‘all hands on deck’ mindset, have lost sight of this – unintentionality or otherwise. Because ultimately, delivering personalised service does help manufacturing companies increase customer retention and win new business. This is backed by findings which reveal 52% of manufacturing executives find it increasingly difficult to compete based on product quality alone, while a huge 86% believe that customer service can now be a key differentiator.

Emerging changes and trends in customer behaviours are being driven by the events of the past few years, so that customers now demand more. By going back to the drawing board (it’s not as difficult as it may first appear) and adapting a more customer service-oriented approach, businesses can slowly gain back control. It can be achieved through the adoption of a much-needed real shift in business strategy that puts the customer service first, for both products and services, to ease customer pain points and boost business value, in turn helping to impact the bottom line. Here are five simple ways how:

  1. Develop a lean mentality

By developing a ‘lean mentality’ throughout your business, owners and decision makers must identify what activities and resources add value to customers and what do not. Then look to eliminate non-value adding activities whilst boosting value-add activities. What features of your product or service delight your customers? What do they not care about? You can then use this to harness a mentality that focuses on offering excellent, responsive customer service, offering the right information, at the right time.

  1. Embrace Manufacturing as a Service

Manufacturers can sometimes forget they’re also service companies. The current supply chain disruption calls out for what I deem alignment and the removal of friction, making sure projects run smoothly from quotation to delivery of parts. Manufacturing as a Service as a one-stop solution must now be a critical part of the manufacturing process, and at the forefront of every manufacturing business’ mind so it can encourage efficiency and better build customer relationships. It may sound clichéd, but it’s a fundamental element being perilously overlooked in the supply chain.

  1. Think small and sustainable

We’ve found many benefits to being an independent business, and one upside is forging our own path, one free of aggressive growth plans. Success isn’t always about fervently focusing on achieving growth at all costs. We’re a small business and proud of it, it gives us a unique value proposition with clients.

Our large competitors are all much larger, seeking tens if not, hundreds of millions of pounds of investment. To achieve the scale they need to make it worthwhile for investors, means they need to automate and to some extent dehumanise the level of service. Not something clients want when spending many thousands of pounds on components to achieve their world-changing innovation. We have found that by delivering a personal service, one that builds long-term trust and relationships, has been key to our growth. Businesses need to be fully committed to service as a value centre that improves customer relationships while driving sustainable growth.

  1. Leverage micro-automation

In order to truly scale and grow a business, companies need to increase revenue without scaling costs. How? One way we have done this is through the use of micro-automation. Rather than expending thousands of pounds on custom software systems, we have used the power of the No Code Movement and automate repetitive tasks using tools such as Zapier. Tools such as this can be deployed faster, at lower cost and using non-invasive methods to deliver greater efficiencies. This has replaced the need for more employees which eats into profits. Micro-automations are one reason why we’ve been able to grow to be a multi-million-pound business, whilst only hiring three additional staff.

  1. Know the rule of 1s and 3s

Finally, if you’re looking for a simple rule that will help you develop a long-term strategy for your business, I would highly recommend the rule of 1s and 3s. Simply put, companies need to reinvent their external and internal processes for milestones of 3 and 10. For example, when your customer base expands from 10 customers to 30 customers, you will likely need to change the way you interact with your customers. Similarly, when 30 customers become 100 customers, again businesses need to reinvent their operations. However, successful companies don’t attempt to make these changes overnight, rather they continually work towards the next milestone as part of a long-term strategy.