Automation Requires More than Automated Customer Service by
Thomas R. Cutler
Holistic is not the first word that comes to mind regarding automation; neither is order-taker. Yet thousands of interviews over the past twenty years have revealed that many system integrators who provide automation services, particularly in material handling, better match the description of order-takers.
This complacency is borne out of routine. Rather than actively seeking all the possible integrated automation solutions for the end-user customer, a product is ordered, delivered, and installed. Too many of these "automation specialists" neglect to say, "What else is needed?" Both a revenue opportunity is lost as well as customer's satisfaction with an integrator.
Two decades and thousands of manufacturer and distributor profiles later, the dismay is the customer had no idea these other product offerings and services were available from their technology partner or vendor.
Strangely there is no malaise in this seeming neglect. The customer service muscles have atrophied terribly. The customer, too often, is left to scurry dealing with dozens of automation providers instead of one-stop-shopping.
Earlier this year at ProMat 2013, in Chicago, hundreds of vendors extolled the virtues of particular solutions and products, whether focused on ergonomics, efficiencies, or clever designs. Few could describe the prospects' "big picture" vantage point. Few had taken the mantle of holistic material handling or industrial automation practitioner.
The obvious correlation (in healthcare) is the manner in which Cleveland Clinic operates. A patent arrives, is seen by all the various physicians attending to that patient. It is all under one roof. There is a team consultative approach. The material handling automation "patient" impaired and most impacted by the "specialist" mentality has a 200,000 square foot warehouse distribution center, or manufacturing plant operating multiple shifts.
The automated approach to automation has failed the client.
During ProMat had the opportunity to speak at length with Tim Floyd, National Sales Director, for Trilogiq USA about this topic. Based in Livonia, Michigan, coverage throughout most of North America, including new coverage in Canada, the company is holding its 2nd Annual Solution Expo on October 10, 2013. More than a hundred confirmed attendees have registered to see, first-hand, what holistic automation means. This is the beginning of a critical and new trend in automation solutions.
Balancing Age and Experience
There is a new hyper-attentiveness regarding customer needs and demands; there is a direct correlation to the decreasing age of CEOs of manufacturing and distribution firms. In 1999 the mean age of the CEO in any industrial sector was sixty-one; by 2007 the age dropped to only fifty-two; now in 2013 it has dropped again to just forty-five.
While attrition of many firms accounted for some of this lower-aged executive, there are other reasons that the "old school" and "old boys club" are quickly being replaced. Younger CEOs have a much great likelihood of holding MBAs and less likely to be engineers by training. These management leaders are versed in lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, continuous improvement theory.
Younger CEOs examine the cost of a sale AND the cost of losing a valued customer.
Someone is going to receive all the add-on revenue...why not the systems integrator with whom the customer has built a trusted relationship? The full gamut of services based in wisdom and experience of potential solutions options is critical. These 40 and 50-something leaders are the pioneers of the new holistic automation process.
Another factor impacting the culture of customer service is the slow, but steady increase of women as C-level industrial executives; while still in single digits, the percentage of these powerful women has increased from 1% to 6% in that past seven years.
The event in Michigan on October 10th is the launch of what will be known as holistic automation. While still in its infancy, the willingness to listen and act upon the Voice of the Customer is long-overdue. Praise should be shared with these companies willing to do what is best for the customer; they will be well remunerated for the insight.
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com). Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 4000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, and Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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