Grab a pencil and a piece of paper and spend the next two minutes writing
down all the things you can think of that make companies successful in today's
global marketplace. What's on your list? Innovative products? Superb product
quality? Price? Quick delivery?
All those ingredients are important, of course. But, there is at least one more important element of manufacturing that has to be in place for successful competition, and it underpins everything else: dedicated people.
Management guru Tom Peters reports in his book, The Pursuit of Wow, that "70% of lost customers hit the road not because of price or quality issues, but because they didn't like the human side of doing business with the prior provider of the product or service." His recommendation: Companies have to find ways to convince employees to act as if it's their own business they're running, and provide the excellent service and support they know customers want and expect.
Among the manufacturers who are doing an admirable job at that is Schneeberger, Inc. The linear bearings manufacturer is in a tough business, and the difficulty of its position is compounded by the fact that all its products are manufactured in Europe. Fluctuations in the exchange rate can in any given year put them at an advantage or disadvantage in terms of price. Distance from the manufacturing plant can be a problem too. Schneeberger certainly has innovative products; in fact Managing Director George Jaffe says they strive to be at the forefront of innovation. But many of their competitors do too. At any rate, says Jaffe, "Innovation may only be important to a few customers in this product line, while the rest are looking for something else."
That something else, he says, often comes down to the extra effort and care the engineers and others expend to meet customers' needs.
One recent example: Assemblers at the factory in Switzerland actually worked on parts at home nights and weekends so a customer could meet its deadlines.
Schneeberger goes to great lengths to find and motivate the best people in industry, and then gives them the training and corporate support they need to achieve excellence for their customers. The company views engineering support and other services as a competitive advantage: It's a pretty simple formula, and one that works in every industry.