Selecting the Right Supplier Part 3: Commitment to Customer Support

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By Carlo Mears | Aug 22, 2012
Customer Support

In the third and final installation of our three-part blog series, we will discuss the importance of customer support. Click here to read the first and second blogs in this series. Customer support can make or break a project. When you are looking for a supplier, how do you tell the difference between someone who is selling to you and someone who is really committed to serving you. It is important to find the right supplier that is there when you need them: reliable, accurate and informed.

“Every job is ‘mission critical’ and every job deserves our utmost attention. I tell my employees to run their desk like it is their own company, with urgency, attention and speed,” says Paul Michaels, Director, GMN Aerospace.

Problems come up when your parts are on the production line. Whether it’s big or small you want to make sure that your supplier has a support team in place that will help problem-solve and keep you informed. Here are some critical elements to evaluate when partnering with your next suppler:

  1. Expertise and Tenure of Support Team: If there is ever a question or problem it is important that someone will be there when you need them. Sitting around and waiting for an answer to an email or call can be very frustrating. When you are communicating with your supplier pay attention to how they treat you as a customer.
    • Do they pass you along from department to department?
    • Is someone there to provide you with immediate assistance?
    • If they don’t know the question do they make sure to keep you updated?
    • What is their escalation policy if something were to go wrong with your program?
    • Ask to meet the staff that will be supporting your business.
  1. Training and Education: There are three distinct elements of training and education to consider: compliance, cross-training and technology.

Compliance Training: Part specifications and requirements are ever changing. The success of your project relies on your supplier to understand this and have a solid and transparent process for tracking changes. It is important that the team working on your project is up to date with the latest changes. Many suppliers require their employees to pass tests to become certified on reading blue prints. Ask about your supplier’s training regimen.

  • How often is training administered?
  • Is it done onsite or offsite, by in-house experts or external trainers or consultants?

Cross-Training: Doing business with a supplier who serves a diverse set of industries ultimately benefits the client – if they take advantage of cross-training their staff. This type of diversity in a company helps to develop use-cases of new and diverse application of existing technologies and processes that are applied to programs in different industries.

Is the supplier open to having customers come in to orient the staff on their program?  For instance, GMN Aerospace holds regular training sessions given by Boeing employees to make sure that all specifications and requirements are understood. This gives you the reassurance that everyone handling your part knows every step and specification that goes into manufacturing.

“Cross-training at GMN Aerospace has been beneficial to our employees but mostly to our clients and the quality product they receive,” Michaels says. “Because GM Nameplate works with multiple industries, we believe in cross-training our employees to expose them to all different types of applications and capabilities of the pieces we manufacture.”

New Technology Education: The advancements in technology are endless. Your customers want the best of the best, so you want to make sure you are getting that from your supplier. It is hard for anyone to keep up with the ever-changing world, but you want to know that the supplier you choose is growing just as fast.

  • How often do vendors train employees in new technology?
  • How much time is put in to researching new technology?
  1. Risk Mitigation: Failure is not an option in most industries — but especially in the aerospace technology. From purchasing to assembly there should be steps in place to make sure all correct specifications are met.
    • When and how often are your parts inspected?
    • What steps are in place to make sure nothing gets over-looked?
    • What kind of checklist is in place to assure that your program is compliant?
  1. Service Standards: These days it is harder and harder to find good customer service. But, basic customer service still matters.
    • Establish a service level agreement so each party understands the expected level of response.
    • Will you get sent to an automated phone service when you call? Or, will you have your own direct phone number to a dedicated support team?
    • How long do you wait for a simple email response?

“We always make sure to respond to calls and emails as soon as we can, even if it’s just a status update, we want the customer to know we are working hard for them,” says Michaels.

The way a company treats their customers reflects on how they are going to treat your program and parts.  Finding the right supplier can take time.  Hopefully our perspective as a supplier will help you find a good fit for your company, project and personnel.