Don't worry. Despite the headline, this editorial isn't on the origin of
the species. Instead, it's on the critical ties that bind manufacturing
companies to their customers--ties that too often are missing in some companies.
And those ties are important, as every successful company knows. Whether you call them consumers and end users, or middlemen who use products to build other products, customers are the life blood of every manufacturing business.
Satisfy them, exceed their expectations, and they'll help your business grow. Disappoint them with poor designs and shoddy quality, and they'll drop you like a hot lump of coal.
IBM, which has made a remarkable turnaround in the last few years, credits its comeback to customer focus. CEO Louis Gerstner has said, "I came here with a view that you start the day with customers, then you start thinking about a company around its customers, and you organize around customers."
AlliedSignal, under the leadership of CEO Larry Bossidy, uses a Total Quality Management framework that starts with improving customer satisfaction, then encompasses all aspects of the company's performance.
Baldor Electric Company actually uses a mathematical formula to express its credo that the customer's view of value is what counts in business.
Customer satisfaction is everyone's priority, but it begins with--you guessed it--engineers. Top management decides on corporate direction; marketing figures out who the customers are, what they want, and how to reach them; sales gets them to buy; but engineers make them happy--or unhappy. Engineering decisions have the major impact on quality, reliability, fit, and finish.
And that means that engineers are the critical link between a company and its customers.
So why is it that some companies don't let engineers talk to customers? They're missing a great opportunity to strengthen an important bond. The feedback engineers can get from direct contact with customers is invaluable, and can result in better product designs. Instead of throwing up a wall between customers and engineers, those companies should look for more ways to bring the parties together, in focus groups, trade shows, and other venues. Engineers shouldn't be the missing link to customers. They are the ties that bind.