You’ve probably heard the expression that you succeed by helping others to be successful. Well that’s also true for a manufacturing business. Truly putting the customer first and your role as helping them to succeed changes the way you see value and waste, which are the ying and yang of Continuous Improvement. In 1950, it took Toyota a year to make the same amount of cars that Ford and GM made in 3 days. Toyota was on a glide path to failure and needed to make drastic changes for the sake of their own survival. Out of this immense pressure emerged the diamond that we now call Lean Manufacturing and the Toyota Production System, which has become the global benchmark of operational excellence. At the core of this set of management processes were 2 principles:
- Value is defined by the customer
- Waste is eliminated or controlled by a method we call one-piece-flow
This article stresses the importance of the first principle. The Toyota Production System was born out of an understanding that the customer is at the center of the company’s universe and everything the company does is intended to bring greater value to the customer. With this clear perspective on what it means to “win”, it also becomes clear what “losses” are – which are any activity that does not bring value to the customer. On the same note, Toyota has famously proclaimed that as much as 93% of all of it’s end-to-end supply chain activity is waste. So if you look around and see some opportunities for improvement, you’re certainly not alone.
Each customer defines value differently. Likewise, customer preferences are constantly changing. This is great; it means there’s always opportunity for you to grow and lay claim to whatever your slower moving competitors are leaving on the table. However, there are 6 rights that bring increasingly greater value to every customer. The company that does the best job satisfying those 6 rights every time has a huge competitive advantage over the other guys.
Here is the Customer Value Bill of Rights:
The Right Product
When you think of product, think of a solution that has a certain form, fit, and function. Customers will buy the product that most closely fits their need (or desire). Also, keep in mind that customer needs are always evolving as being driven by new technology, fashion trends, and competitive activity. You win this category by picking up the signals of consumer taste and being first to re-tool and launch products that seize emerging market opportunities. In this category, your weapon of choice is production agility and flexibility.
The Right Place
One simple but powerful Lean tenant is that supplies should be staged near the point of use. Your customers also appreciate the convenience of getting what they need from you without needing to look far and wide for it. Nearly all supply chain operations fall short of the ideal of zero distance from the point of use but Amazon.com is getting us fairly close. Most supply chain models are designed to get the product from the factory to the shelf at the supermarket. We then rely on the customer to come into the store to find and purchase the product. Amazon and a few other close followers have taken this a step further by delivering products directly to the customers doorstep – albeit at least a couple of days later. There is still opportunity here for us all.
The Right Time
Can you imagine everything you need just materializing right in your hand the moment you need it? We don’t live in that world today but I’m sure people would be delighted to fork over a little extra cash if you could figure this one out for them. This sounds a lot like the Lean Manufacturing principle of Just in Time delivery (JIT). As a consumer, the closest thing we have to this is in digital products like movies, music, and other content that can be accessed on demand. The next wave is products on demand in real-time. Imagine a new bottle of dish washing liquid showing up at your door the moment your current bottle reaches the 10% mark with no action needed on your part. Its coming – and if you get there before the other guys do, the spoils are all yours to enjoy.
The Right Quantity
I would venture to say that most manufacturers that have been in business for a while do a pretty good job at shipping the right quantities to the customer. Of course some still struggle in this department from time to time but with the help of ERP and Order Management technology, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting production orders filled as needed. The key here is to continue to increase production reliability so that your system delivers the quantities needed with less time and inventory required.
The Right Quality
Quality can be a tricky one because it has a double-meaning; one being to produce with high consistency and low deviation from one unit to the next of the same product; the other referring to the perceived value of materials and methods used in production (consider luxury products as being regarded as high quality). For all intensive purposes, let’s consider quality to mean consistency and reliability of the product itself. Manufacturers win in this space by continuously engineering a more perfect production process where defects are made impossible in the best case and contained prior to shipping in the least so that product defects never reach the customer.
The Right Price
Finally, all of this must be done at the right price to the customer. This implies that conversion and material costs are low enough to leave you with a healthy profit as well. The manufacturer with the lowest direct, indirect, and overhead cost structure has a significant advantage over the competition given all other things equal. To win in this category, continue to drive out the eight wastes while delivering excellence across the Customer Value Bill of Rights.
The days of brand loyalty are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Companies that win in the markets of tomorrow understand the Customer Value Bill of Rights and leverage end-to-end Continuous Improvement to deliver on them more effectively than the competition. Jeff Bezos and the good folks at Amazon.com have made a killing by exploiting the fact that manufacturers do poorly at providing the right product at the right place. However, Amazon is terrified of that manufacturer who figures out how to deliver the right product to the individual customer’s doorstep on demand in the right quantity, quality, and price.