Consistency Is A Virtue

I know that we are always talking about change, and lauding those who not only welcome change but are ready to adapt to change, no matter the circumstances. But there is one quality in a company, especially a vendor, that is truly cherished, and that is consistency.

We love our vendors to be consistent. We love the idea that their products are consistently great and consistently on time.

Think about it, food chains like McDonald’s are successful because they are consistent. A Big Mac in Sheboygan, will taste the same as one in Shanghai (actually not exactly true, the McDonald’s in Shanghai makes the best Big Mac I’ve ever eaten, but for the sake of this column I’ll stick to my example).

For the most part a Home Depot in Maine will have the same layout as a Home Depot in Montana. And we depend on them being the same. We take comfort in that. All great brands, from Disney, to L.L. Bean to Nordstrom, are known for their consistency, and their consistency in great products and services.

When it comes to manufacturing, consistency is also the most important attribute a company can have. Our customers want  the same great service every time they do business with us. Consistently deliver great service, and products, and you will be branded as a great company to work with.

Of course, being consistently good is not easy. It’s hard, that’s why not everybody can do it. Fabricating ten thousand printed circuit boards, so that the first board and the last board are exactly alike, is an art that not everyone can perfect.

And when you think of the over one hundred process steps that it takes to build a circuit board, and all of the things that can go wrong, you get a pretty clear picture of how hard it is to build a consistently perfect PCB. The same applies to PCB assembly services, not to mention PCB design and layout services. It takes tremendous discipline and process controls to turn out a consistently good product.

But then again, we’d all better be striving to do just that if we want to succeed. Which is why every great company has instituted programs to assure that great products and services are consistently delivered to their customers.

Whether they are Quality programs like ISO and AS9100, or operations programs like LEAN Manufacturing or 5S, these are all programs designed to build consistency into the Operations processes. These are all great programs and they all work if the company implements them with discipline and (yes) consistency.

But now let’s talk about customer service. Although some trainers, and experts tell me that these programs can, and do sometimes apply to customer service, they do not provide a complete solution to providing consistently great customer service. The same disciplines that apply to performing a task the same consistent way over and over again; or a piece of equipment such as an LDI that can guarantee that the image on the ten thousandth PCB will be as clear, concise and accurate as the first piece imaged, do not apply to great customer service. Customer service cannot be objectively controlled for the simple fact that the human factor is involved. It can be argued, and argued successfully, that whether or not the LDI operator is in a bad mood or not will not affect the consistency on the image put out by that equipment. While on the same token whether or not a customer service rep is in a bad mood or not will certainly affect the level of customer service that is delivered. That human element makes customer service a subjective rather than objective discipline.

So, what is one to do? Simple, because great customer service is a cultural thing, the company must develop a great customer service culture. An atmosphere where the norm is delivering great, and most importantly, consistent customer service.

As is true with everything in life, we are the product of the environment around us. And if that environment in all levels of the organization is customer focused and customer oriented, then that company will be customer focused as well  as will all of its associates.

This is especially true when it comes to top management. We should remember always that what a company’s managers say, and do, will reflect exponentially on the associates. If you are a company president who loves customers, and walks that talk, then the entire organization will follow suit. If on the other hand you are a company leader who treats customers like they are out to get him, like he has met the enemy and it is the customer, then the people in his organization will follow his behavior and treat their customers accordingly. Not good.

Look, it comes down to this one very simple rule, so simple that we sometimes tend to forget it. The key to consistent customer service is to treat your customers as you would want to be treated. And that rule applies to everyone in the company from the owner to the customer service people. That’s it, simple right? That’s because it’s only common sense.

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