“The customer is the main focus”
and “the customer is king”
This is the motto of many companies. But in reality it is often a challenge to focus on the customer while also implementing sophisticated strategy development and process optimization. How do you manage to standardize your processes internally and at the same time remain capable of responding to customer needs in a flexible manner?
Tobias Kehrer, Managing Director of Carl Stahl Süd GmbH, focuses on this question on a daily basis. He is responsible for ten sales and service locations in the rope, lifting and safety technology sector in Southern Germany. In order to cope with the lean transformation, he initiated the “ProcessEvolution” program at Carl Stahl. His advice on how to manage this balancing act between strategy development and process optimization is based on his experience in industry, but it can also be easily transferred to service companies.
1. Create a corporate culture that allows customer feedback to flow directly into strategy and production processes.
In today’s “VUCA world,” it is no longer realistic for companies to develop a strategic plan for the next five years and to want to adhere to it rudimentarily. Of course, it is important to set goals and to be aware of the milestones you want to achieve as a company. However, it must be ensured that you remain capable of acting and are able to adapt to new market and customer requirements at short notice.
With this in mind, it is advisable not to develop strategic plans in secret, but to actively involve customers in strategic development and innovation processes. This can be done using the following measures:
- Give the customer a platform on which he or she can actively participate in your processes.
Carl Stahl Süd GmbH organizes regular customer activity days, during which customers are invited to the company. There, new products and innovations are demonstrated and their feedback is openly received. This also goes hand in hand with a transparent and open error culture based on the lean approach.
- Ensure regular exchange between sales and production.
Enable sales employees to pass on customer feedback internally to the process organization. At Carl Stahl, weekly regular communications take place between sales and Shop Floor Management. This guarantees that the customer is always taken into account in processes and that the company reacts quickly to changing needs. The prerequisite for this is that sales staff have the necessary skills and a voice to be able to offer their impressions of the customer.
- Maintain a holistic orientation towards the value stream and also involve your suppliers.
Carl Stahl organizes regular supplier days, which focus on exchange and networking. Here, too, the aim is to involve suppliers in current processes and developments and to offer them a platform for communication.
2. Be “customer-solution oriented” and not “fixated on the product”
Lean management established the essential basic requirements for you as a company to be able to act in a customer-oriented manner. In the course of the lean transformation, Carl Stahl implemented standardization and process optimization. At the same time, we experience situations in which it is necessary to move away from only thinking about process efficiency. The process must never be more important than the customer. You must consciously find the right mixture of “lean” and “freedom.” A prime example: As a manufacturing company, it is sometimes not possible to supply the customer with the desired product at the desired time from within the company. This calls for other, creative solutions that do not necessarily coincide with the process and product concept. It may be an option to accept the customer order and purchase certain components for the solution from a third party. It is crucial to act in customer-oriented manner and not be fixated on the process or product.
Lean management established the essential basic requirements for you as a company to be able to act in a customer-oriented manner. The process must never be more important than the customer. You must consciously find the right mixture of ‘lean’ and ‘freedom.’tobias kehrer, ceo, carl stahl süd gmbh