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Customer-centric Teams

One manufacturer's competitive advantage.

In a tough manufacturing economy, finding the right market niche and sustaining an unfailing focus on customers are two reasons for the continued growth of RBB Systems, an Ohio-based electronics manufacturer specializing in small batches of circuit boards and control panel assemblies.

Almost all electronics contract manufacturers want to capture 100 percent of the electronics business of each of its customers. RBB doesn't," says president and CEO Bruce Hendrick. "We are experts in one particular slice of the pie: the small-batch, often high-hassle-factor jobs." When order sizes get larger, RBB entrusts partners to take on some of the business so customers aren't left in the lurch.

"We exist to move heaven and earth to get our small-batch customers what they want, when they want it," says Hendrick. That's the RBB Systems mission statement. To make good on that promise, RBB has created Customer Centric Teams (CCTs). Each team includes a customer liaison from sales, a buyer/planner and an engineer, working collaboratively to serve its own group of customers. The team provides personalized service and continuously becomes more familiar with its customers' unique requirements. Operating in the company's lean environment, the CCT provides faster quote turnaround, increased reliability, quick attention to issues or needs at any time and assurance that details don't fall through the cracks.

Dani Fulks is the customer liaison on one of the CCTs. "Our goal is to keep our customers' manufacturing projects flowing smoothly through the shop," she says. "The team sits together, talks openly about any problems that arise and brainstorms ways to solve them. We clarify engineering and documentation issues in days instead of weeks. Continuously learning from each other, we function as a single unit and help each other serve our customers' needs."

The CCTs provide a business advantage. "Customer Centric Teams have helped us dramatically streamline our communication in both quoting and order processing," Hendrick says. "Most important of all, our customers have main points of contact within the sales, engineering and purchasing functions. This allows their critical deadlines to be met consistently. Making them happy means retaining and growing their business, and, ultimately, growing our company."

To become more customer-centric, Hendrick advises, manufacturers should "spend time with a few trusted customers, get vulnerable and ask some very open-ended questions. Find out why they do business with you, what more they wish they could get from you and what could cause you to lose their business. Then respond, even if you don't like or agree with what you hear."


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