The Perfect Customer

dan-5If only…

If only our customers understood us, Oh, what a wonderful world that would be! We have spent a great deal of time in this column talking about the perfect sales person, and the perfect fabricator and the perfect customer service person, so I thought it would be interested, and only fair, to write about the perfect customer…the ideal customer.

In a perfect world, all the customers would be perfect, which would make our life so much easier. I’m sure many of you have heard this statement more than once, usually said through gritted teeth by a frustrated production manager, “this business would run so much smoother if it wouldn’t be for those gosh darn customers.” Well, of course we all are smart enough to realize that we would not have a business to run smoother if it wasn’t for those gosh darn customers.

But, certainly building our customers’ boards would go much smoother if our customers had the slightest understanding of how a printed circuit board is built. We have passed the age of the educated printed circuit board customers. Once upon a time in those days of yore, we’ll call, “the good old days” or as my old friend Pat Wetli was fond of saying, the good old day,” because he said that in all his forty plus years of being in the PCB industry there was probably only one day when things ran smoothly. But, back in those old days, most of our OEM customers had their own board shops staffed by their own board experts who all had complete knowledge of PCBs and how they were built. In many instances they were smarter than we were and taught us how to build their boards in our shops. But those days are gone. OEMs have closed their PCB shops and many of them have stop manufacturing their products, turning over that part of their business to the contract manufacturers, who often openly admit that they don’t know much about PCB technology. And to add to this growing problem of our customers not understanding our technology many of the designers who did know something about our technology have aged out and we are now dealing with a group of much younger PCB designers who have never spent even an hour in a board shop and admit they don’t really understand the technology. And as well-intentioned as these entities, CM’s and designers and OEMs of today are they, their lack of understanding of how a PCB is built is creating more problems than we’ve ever had.

When I ask my customers, the board houses why they cannot get their quotes out faster (especially in these times when many of our customers are awarding the orders to the vendor who gets the quote in the fastest, the issue of quote response is a very serious one) they tell me that the real problem lies in getting incomplete or incorrect RFQ data packages from their customers. Which cause them to have to put the quote on hold which of course brings the quote process to s screeching halt will they wait for the customers to get back to them with an answer.

And here’s the worst part; many times, the customers actually get angry that the PCB vendor is calling with question. In some cases, chastising the vendor to “stop asking these questions and just build according to the data we sent you!”

What are the PCB fabricators supposed to do with this kind of feedback? Are they supposed to build boards that will not work? This has become a very real dilemma for all the PCB fabricators. For the past few months I have been performing an informal survey of many of the shops I know asking them how they handle this problem and here in a nutshell are my findings. The diligent PCB fabricators still man up and call the customer until the get their questions answers. The more let’s say “aggressive” board shops simply make assumptions and move on, sometimes they get burnt but they tell me that it’s not that often, percentages are on their side and that they have given up calling customers only to get yelled at for “holding up the quote with these stupid questions!” And the truly scary thing about this is that it is the latter shops that win the orders most of the time and who the heck knows how functional the boards they building are in the end.

So back to being that perfect customer? Here are three things you can do:

Get closer to your PCB vendors. Talk to them, visit their shops, and learn everything you can about how a board is built,

Ask your PCB vendors what it is that makes up a perfect data package.

Consider your PCB vendors your PCB experts, your consultants of you will when it comes to everything PCB

And one more, under promise and over deliver, listen to them when they are asking you questions instead of getting mad at them, stop and realize that they are not asking these questions to be a pain in your neck but to fabricate the very best board for your company. Doesn’t that make sense? Yes, only common sense.

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