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Enhancing the Customer Experience to Build Trust, Efficiency & Satisfaction

Just as the creation of a below-the-hook lifter or attachment must be tailored for each unique application, a customer service model must be specific to a company’s culture and its target audience.

To stay ahead in today’s ever-changing marketplace, manufacturers must quickly evolve to meet and exceed growing customer expectations. As a leading manufacturer of below-the-hook lifting equipment, Caldwell has chosen to apply a continuous improvement mindset to all aspects of the business, from manufacturing to engineering, and through customer service.

In this blog, Caldwell’s director of business development, Jeff Ferchen, will explain how a manufacturer can evolve a customer service model to meet both distributor and point-of-use customer needs, while improving internal processes as well.

There was a time when one size sort of fit all. Every call that came in was handled by the first available rep, or maybe assigned to a region or pre-assigned list of accounts. That model worked for a long time. Everyone was served. Everyone got treated the same.

But as the world changed, so did customer expectations. Some no longer wanted to talk on the phone at all, preferring to handle the “routine” things via the web. Some needed more time and attention due to complicated requirements. Training staff to handle both ends of the spectrum is hard and knowing which type of call is going to arrive before it does is impossible.

So, what is the best way to make sure everyone gets what they need?

See how Caldwell structured a customer solutions group to serve channel partners and end users in the best way possible.
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Step 1: Define the target and their needs
There are many routes to market for a manufacturing company. In the U.S. lifting sector, it is common for national or international firms to deliver product through channel partners, distributors, or dealers. In other words, an end user in Houston, Texas, will go to an outlet from which they likely buy all kinds of material handling equipment, and that product or solution is sourced from a manufacturer like Caldwell. What that means is that at Caldwell, we really serve two customers: distributors and end users.

Distributors can run the range from a regional specialty rigging shop like Rockford Rigging to a national broadline supplier like The Crosby Group. End users can vary significantly: crane operators in construction, marine, steel mill / service center facilities; plant managers in automotive, energy, hard goods manufacturing locations; and engineers involved with projects for infrastructure, aerospace, steel processing or nuclear energy companies.

The thing about these dealers, is that they get all kinds of inquiries every day from those various end-user markets. The breadth of knowledge that these partners need is vast. They’re offshore one minute, up a tower crane the next, and finish the day at an industrial site doing a chain sling inspection.

This is exactly why manufacturers such as Caldwell must also fully understand those making the purchasing decisions at steel mills and metals service centers, for example. With point-of-sale knowledge and experience, manufacturers can supplement and support dealers better — and get closer to the human side of business. It’s not about money; it’s about culture and people, after all.

Step 2: Identify types of sales
When I arrived at Caldwell last year, I brought 24 years of experience to the company, including roles at The Crosby Group and Rockford Rigging. Over that time, I developed an understanding of what companies—especially those that operate in between that all-important space between the lifting technology and the load—need to do to deliver world-class customer experiences. The guidance here can be applied to a multitude of businesses, though.

We’ve recently restructured our business to this end. Always with the same mantra at heart: serving customers better by improving efficiency and developing the team.

We have identified three distinct types of interactions of our operation:

1. Common product: There are Caldwell, Renfroe, and RUD-branded products in our catalog that are standard and readily available off-the-shelf. If you want a Caldwell single-hook forklift beam, you can select the capacity and drop it into a virtual shopping cart via our new distributor portal. These types of orders are more transactional, repetitive, and require efficiency above all else. The people ordering these items generally know what they want and don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it. They expect the interaction to be easy, fast, and frictionless. They may choose to order on our online distributor portal or via a phone call.

2. Moderate product: I described this range to someone recently as ordering a burger your way. You might want an extra patty and no pickles; or a few extra holes drilled into your lifting beam. The people ordering these items need a little more product and industry knowledge from our internal team because they may have questions about what is or is not possible. Many prefer to discuss it over the phone, but since they aren’t starting from scratch, we also make an online ordering option available via our SmartSpec® Product Configurator.

3. Complex product: This is the part of the business that really excites us, where we get to work on customizing lifting frames for transatlantic transportation of cryomodules or a transport cradle for a lunar lander. These one-of-a-kind designs require more time, deeper relationships, and more back-and-forth between end users and the factory. They all require project management and cross-functional work teams and exclusively take place over the phone, video conferencing, and sometimes via on-site visits.

Step 3: Structure and develop a customer service team
Caldwell’s answer has been to create a combined customer service, technical sales, engineering, and project management department to reflect the types of products we sell and to provide a pathway to growth for our employees.

First, we divided our front-line customer service reps into three groups, one to handle each of the three sales types.
Inquiries and orders for common or stock items get funnelled into a CS group that is well versed on our best selling items and that has expertise on our web capabilities. They can make sure customers in this group, whether they are a distributor or an end user, have access to the right tools at the right time to make the ordering process as easy and effortless as possible.

The second CS group is trained to handle the moderate products. This group includes our first round of engineers, making modifications to existing products while growing their familiarity and expertise with end user industries and distributor processes.

The third CS group is our most experienced. These in-house subject matter experts have spent years learning about the diverse industries and unique needs of the people who work in them. These builds are complicated and require a great deal of coordination. As such, one of the key components of this group is a project management role to ensure that every build goes smoothly.

One of the benefits of this system is that team members can grow into new roles with greater responsibilities as they gain experience. That culture, where experts become mentors, benefits customers, and employees alike.

I’m a firm believer in the value of training a workforce and passing on information for continued improvement of industry best practices at the point of use. Now we have a model in place to serve customers better by improving efficiency, while developing the team.

How does your manufacturing business compare?

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