Stop Being Mad at Your Customers

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Remember that old saw from the Pogo comic strip? “We have met the enemy and it is us.” Well, a lot of people in the PCB industry would rewrite that: “We have met the enemy and it’s our customer.”

Don’t you sometimes feel like this? How many times have you sat around with your sales team and complained about those darned customers? Think about how many times you’ve heard your ops people say, “If it weren’t for those damned customers, things would run so much better out there on the floor.”

For those of you in sales, how many times have you caught yourself complaining about your customers? How often do you sit around whining about how customers won’t answer the phone; they don’t even want to see anyone; that they are too lazy to try a new solution like yours; and they only buy on price because they are too short-sighted to see the true value of quality and delivery? Many times, I venture to say.

Or for those of you in engineering, how many times have you cursed at the customer because he just doesn’t want the product built the way you want to build it, the only way you know how to build it? Or you pull out what’s left of your gray hair trying to show those PCB designers the light, trying to get them to design the boards the right way—your way. More often than you’d care to admit, right?

Or for you shop owners, how many times have you complained about those customers, especially the bigger ones who seem to want to squeeze you for every last chance at profitability, as though they think it’s a crime for you to make a little money? What about your customers who want to come in and talk about partnering with you, when you know that never works out well for you in the end?

You have to admit that some of these complaints are indeed valid, though by the same token some are not. But in the end, it’s all about perception and attitude. You have to remember who is paying the bills. You have to be reminded that if it weren’t for those darned customers, the shop would not run better—it would not run at all. Without your customers, there would be nothing to build.

We have to remember at all times that we are in the business of servicing our customers. As the staffers said on West Wing, “We serve at the pleasure of the president.” And, in fact, we do serve at the pleasure of our customers. The airlines’ pre-flight announcement nails it: “You have many choices of airlines to fly with, and we thank you for choosing us today.”

When your business is job-shopping, building someone else‘s product, we have to take the good with the bad. We must listen to our customers, because, after all, we are building their products. They have put their future in our hands, and they need to be sure they are indeed good hands.

An analogy I used many years ago was that a PCB shop is very much like a surrogate mother: Someone has trusted us to carry and delivery their baby (not our baby), and that is exactly what we are in business to do. This is precisely why they want to make sure we are healthy.

The parents who are paying the surrogate mother want to make sure that she is healthy, eating right, taking her vitamins, and having regular checkups. And our customers want us to have all of the right specs, qualifications, and registrations. This is why our customers visit us, conduct surveys, and qualification audits: They want to make sure that our shop is clean, our processes are under control, and we have the ability to deliver a great product—their product.

So, think about this the next time you’re ready to blast one of your customers. You are in business at their pleasure and without them, there would be no business.

I’ll ask you to do one more thing, especially if you started your own business years ago. Think back to that time when you were building your customer base. Remember just how exciting it was when that phone would ring and someone would call in to place an order? Can you remember that?

Can you recapture that feeling of excitement? Think how elated you were to get that order from that new customer (and they were all new then). Well, hold that thought. Today, that’s the way you should feel about your customers.

It’s only common sense.


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