Monday, August 3, 2015

The road to perfection

About three years ago, I asked my management staff for help in defining our ideal customer.  This was done for marketing purposes.  The more we knew about our customers and about the ones with whom we identified most strongly, the better we could target our marketing. 

This year our growth rate has been phenomenal in comparison to prior years.  We have acquired several new customers and we have seen sales increases for some of our existing clients.  The job of completing these orders on time and accurately has become more difficult these days, especially since we are often at one hundred percent production capacity.  While this is an ideal situation from a profitability standpoint, it is not such a great thing for our staff.  They work very hard and the stress of meeting ever more pressing deadlines is getting to them. 

You learn many things when you reach capacity.   You can’t really increase individual production very much if you have a motivated crew.  The jobs of the production crew don’t change a whole lot; they just get to work more hours if they choose.  Most of them are happy with the extra income, especially during periods that were previously pretty slow.

The biggest allotment of stress drops onto the workflow management staff.  They are the ones who have to prepare the orders to be done, make them absolutely clear for the embroiderers and make sure that the product is processed smoothly from the time we receive the order until the apparel is delivered to the customer.

In stressful and rushed situations, some orders are much easier to process than others.  This leads us back to our ideal customers.  It turns out that the majority of the easy processing orders come from our previously identified ‘ideal’ customers.  Fancy that!  The process works not only for identifying a market.  It also provides pretty good feedback as to who is going to be the easiest to work with.
What, you may ask, makes our ideal customer?   We worked on the definition for a long time and I’ll try to parse the whole idea into a few specific statements.

1)      Our ideal customer understands what we do and does not continually ask for us to stretch beyond our limitations.  This applies to rush orders and design work.  We do embroidery, not sewing.

2)      Rush orders are often a sign of disorganization.  Either the customer forgot to order (quite often the case) or they have not yet trained their client to order on time.  Constant rush orders eventually get messed up.  That costs us time and money.   Our best customers provide us with fewer rush orders. 

3)      Customers pay us on time.  They understand that this is a business relationship and are not so arrogant as to assume that we appreciate being blessed with their orders.  In fact, the harder it is to collect, the more resentful I get.  Yes, it is a personal thing.  I have employees who need to pay their bills.  They also do very good work.  It is insulting that a client would not pay for the service that we provide. 

4)      If a customer learns on the job, they are our kind of folks.  We don’t expect anyone to be perfect.  We also don’t expect to answer the same questions every single time the client calls us. 
Last month a client sent artwork to us, along with a purchase order.  I had the artwork converted to embroidery and was told that the whole design was wrong.  It turns out that the customer has defined standards for the logos and among them are specific guidelines for size, what is to be included, and the colors that are to be used.  Later still, we received a sample (after I had set up the design).  Even later, we were given a completely different size for the logo.  Had the customer asked the right questions in the beginning, neither my time nor his would have been wasted.  As it stands, though, we were able to discuss the problems and he let me know that he’d be asking for samples and guidelines in the beginning next time.

5)      Orders are organized and easy to read.  That’s pretty easy to understand.  It certainly helps the receiving staff and finishing department to count things in and out when we know what we’re supposed to have. 
That’s a list of some of the more important features of our ideal customers.

If we get famous and go global, would it be awful if I were to do a best/worst list and publish it?  Number 1 Perfect Client of the Year?  Or maybe I can put a sign on the door:

No solicitors.  Only ideal customers allowed to enter these premises.  
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