Overlook Customer-Keeping at Your Own Peril

Assume nothing! It’s pretty safe to say, the days of winning and then warehousing customers are gone forever. Sales and customer service departments are working harder than ever to please customers and thwart competitor advances.

In industry after industry the landscape may have shrunk but the players are stronger and sharper than ever.

Stapling a customer’s shoes to your carpet takes meeting higher expectations than last year. This year’s customers are empowered with greater amounts of information than last year’s. But, like the bane of every rock star in concert, his or her fans want “it” just like the last time, or better! That means you must consistently deliver not only a product or service, but on the expectation or vision the customer has for you [your brand].

Part Selling, Part Promise-Keeping
Every company today has at least one sharp competitor snapping at its heels and taking shots at its best customers. Buyers are open to ever-better solutions. They want what you want from your vendor representatives.

Most companies value existing customers all about the same, which is a big mistake.

Some old customers will stay out of habit. Newer ones come because they are looking for something different than what they had before. Once you make what you do for them their reality, and they are satisfied, it must only rise from there.

Assuring one’s  client base now requires a heightened level of customer understanding and honest assessment of competitive opportunities. Veteran business leaders are familiar with the quote, “it’s easier to keep the customers you have than it is to find new ones.” Finding creative ways of instilling responsive customer service by everyone that touches the customer can have a profound effect on customer retention and sustaining the company’s future.

By taking an interest in the products and strategies, and understanding the industries their customers’ serve, sales people keep their adversaries at bay. And, we’ve seen big brands have raised the customer service bar in highly visible consumer products businesses especially where companies can template the actions, as in call centers, for banks and cell phone carriers.

Bringing that level of interest to your installers, receivables clerks and telephone receptionists is an across the enterprise undertaking well worth the effort. Keeping your company in a favorable light throughout the “purchase experience” and every time thereafter, is critical to keeping customers and having them tell others. Pleasant customer service, strong on-site protocols, and rapid response are highly visible, easily measured, and, can be implemented almost immediately.

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Think like a Bug

Remember the childhood joke, “How do you catch a rabbit? You go behind a tree and make a noise like a carrot?” For me, the irony of this little story is about being genuine, the real thing, authentic; the little picture in the dictionary that supports a definition.

Over 35 years ago, I decided to invest my future in the Glass Industry. During that time I’ve had experiences from one end of the business to the other, from Automotive Replacement Glass to emergency glass replacement, to the design and manufacturing of premium glass products, to employment law. One of the fascinating aspects about our professional lives is that we’ll never know it all. I am still amazed, upon walking into a prospective new project, that there still remain new applications with unique challenges that require creative new solutions.

I have been an avid fly fisherman for years. I was hooked, literally from the first time I got into the cold water of a swiftly moving river. When I first started, I was advised to think like a fish. Thereafter the concept, thinking like a fish, has come to have several levels of meaning. Fundamentally, for the fish it’s about clean water, bugs and other food, and predators.

Whether this is a fishing analogy or fishing indulgence, you can decide.

Thinking like a fish was great advice. Thinking like a bug however, especially all the kinds of bugs that fish like to get old eating, has made me a better fisherman. To be like a bug around a river or stream takes some practice. You have to look as close to a real bug as possible. You have to move with the currents, emerge from the bottom or float on the surface, just like bugs do. You need to fit in wherever you go.

Getting a trout to make a move is much more than getting the hook in front it. Fish, like people, depend on their instincts. If it’s not natural and your sensibilities are not in sync with your surroundings they, and we, don’t respond very well. It seems the more luck I have catching fish is directly proportional to my skill in replicating certain of nature’s flawless actions. The more I practice, the more luck I seem to have!

How gratifying is it to have even one competence in one’s life? I’ve tried to focus on being the highest value provider in my part of the glass business, and that’s a multi-faceted full time undertaking. Whether it is raising a family, building a rewarding career or gaining proficiency in any other worthy pursuit, it is the discovery that comes along with the experience gained that can be so gratifying for each of us.

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Recognition

When it comes to running a high-visibility business, there is nothing more important than quality. Personal attention, loyalty, excellent customer service and of course, hard work are all critical components to making a business work. When you dedicate your life to an Industry, you want to do everything in your power to earn the trust of your customers and add to the strength of your community.

It almost always begins the same way, a young person simply trying to make a living and raise a family draws upon the capable, supportive people met along the way who have helped him navigate his way to success. For business owners, setting high standards and striving to gain the trust and appreciation of customers and clients is the best way to succeed. Such is the karmic nature of business—generating high-quality products that truly benefit the community is eventually rewarded with trust, appreciation and collegial recognition.

Last year I entered my 60s, something I put off for as long as I could. I now understand better how there can be no shortcuts in the gaining of wisdom. Skill and knowledge may come faster with focus, but wisdom can only come with experience.

Several months ago, it was an honor to be recognized with the very first Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Executives Association of New Jersey, a prominent New Jersey business group that I have been a part of for many years. The group cited my leadership, dedication and contribution to the community as business traits worthy of acknowledgement.

The recognition came just ahead of being included in a feature article in USGlass Metal & Glazing magazine about the Glass Industry’s most influential people. Both of these occasions provided a rare opportunity to more broadly express my appreciation to my fellow business leaders and the glass industry for years of support and encouragement. These relationships, built on professional perspective, dependable sources of supply or from our appreciative customers and trusting specifiers, have contributed to our continually raising the bar on ourselves.

Reflecting back on my lifetime, working in what has grown to be the decorative architectural glass industry, I am able to fully appreciate how our rigid standards and detailed focus surely do result in redeeming value to all who are connected to our company. Being honored for loyalty and unwavering commitment is pretty good stuff.

These honors have taught me a few things. I have been able to make an impression on others who appreciate consistent quality and the leadership role we have in the glass industry. Loyalty, quality service and high standards are worthy attributes that are consistent with who I am, what I have done, and how I want to be regarded.

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Thoughts at NeoCon

As many of my glass industry colleagues know, NeoCon is the commercial furniture interior industry’s big annual event held at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart around this time every year. This year’s visit was particularly inspiring to me for several reasons. To start with, it seemed the general consensus on the floor was very positive, with many hinting about encouraging business activity.

The show is absolutely huge; the abundance of suppliers in many of the product categories is practically overwhelming to the visitor. There is so much there that I can’t see how anyone would not be able to find exactly what they came for. In one display after the next, from major players to small, hot newcomers, we were amazed by the latest in clever office furniture and space solutions. Glass for interior applications was present everywhere, embracing trends in technology and ergonomic solutions. Especially prevalent were modular wall systems, whose continued growth provides exciting architectural and decorative opportunities for our industry.

With almost two million square feet of permanent showrooms and show week exhibitors, the event is always well attended. On a range of quality levels, the use of glass distinguished products in storage applications, lighting, projection systems and partition walls. Decorative architectural glass has come into its own at NeoCon.

We saw lots of applications for back-painted glass laminates and creative uses of high-tech interlayers.

Sometimes we forget, with all of our everyday commitments, how important it is to take the time to attend shows and events. My first reason is that there is no substitute for seeing things in person, and asking questions of experts. For example, this year I received an amazingly clear and concise explanation of different painting and powder coating techniques that will be invaluable to my business.

The second reason is meeting old friends and making new ones. This visit was particularly gratifying. After almost 35 years, my affiliations with leading designers, through the work we have performed for them and the supplier relationships we have developed, made almost every aisle seem like a mini family reunion. As for new friends, we were helping a woman out of a cab, fully laden with NeoCon bags, and struck up a curbside chat. She shared that she was from Atlanta, and I shared that I was going to be there the following week, meeting on some projects in the Middle East. She turned out to be very accomplished designer and we are already working on a West Coast project together. As Louis Pasteur said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”

We are in a strong, important and resilient business, where creativity and style meet efficiency and suitability. It looks like the state of the industry is okay and what keeps us going will endure. The swirl of new ideas I took home will help to inspire us back at Galaxy Glass & Stone.

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The Benefits of a Product Year

In the beginning, when Galaxy was a much smaller business, we were able to affect changes and bring new products to market on our own timetable. We would concentrate on product innovations or launching a wholly new offering as time allowed. This may have been during a lull in production or may have been precipitated by a reaction to something happening in our marketplace.

The process was inefficient, it stretched out the time to market and caused internal struggles due to conflicting priorities. As we grew, along with so many other operational disciplines that the company has embraced, we had to formulate and adopt a comprehensive process for product development. The system required that we work backward from a launch date that was strategically grounded on market impact.

When the idea of a Product Year was suggested to us, it immediately made sense to our team. The concept could readily provide better operational controls and keep all parties (internal and external partners) well informed and better prepared. However, the real surprise came with the efficiencies that were inherent in the process. Things got done much faster!

The Product Year model, which we formulated from processes employed in other manufacturing firms, starts with the concept. It then outlines in a written brief, the targets, benefits and return on investment the new offering should provide. The product team is required to perform a due diligence investigation to assess costs, examine competitive products and anticipate customer and competitor actions.

The customer and competitor aspect is of obvious and critical importance. Here’s the reason: with the advantage of thorough preparation you have a proactive strategy that anticipates competitor reaction, so you are prepared. You don’t react to their reaction; you anticipate their moves. When the competition reacts, you counter with your selection of tactics, applying exactly what is required to keep a step or two ahead.

Implementing a process like this in your business does not require a set template. You already know all the required steps. Planning product launches using a Product Year system is a matter of forethought and anticipating lead times. For entrepreneurial leaders, it’s a matter of clearly sharing your vision with your team.

The other aspect of Product Year planning is that new products and product changes are released on a regular cycle. In this way, your customers come to expect product introductions that may coincide with other trade industry events or other seasonal highlights.

As an example, this year Galaxy began the practice of launching new seasonal colors. Inspired by the Color Marketing Council, our Spring Line combined the latest new colors with fabric, texture and color gradients from our laminating, digital and direct to glass printing lines. These new products were introduced in an extensive roll-out with leading design firms.

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