Customer satisfaction is one of the essential elements of customer retention and employee’s loyalty. It is not just science but also the art of satisfying customer that involves strategies focusing on creating and reinforcing pleasurable experience. One need not be an engineer or come from management background; even a waiter or a cleaner in a restaurant is subjected to customer satisfaction to their top priority. In today’s world where companies are getting more competitive as they grow and the ease of communication due to global connectivity has brought the companies and customer closer thus customer satisfaction is a major predictor of a firm’s financial health.
Being an engineering student, we are subjected to customer satisfaction, where ‘customer’ is the professors and students not only have to maintain a good relationship with the professor but also have to maintain a good academic record and involve ourselves in extracurricular activities. I observed a similar practice during my internship period at Krupa Industries where the company not only had to maintain a good relationship with the customer by giving them quality product & services but also have a good company record in terms of operations, employee satisfaction and work ethics. I would take this opportunity and share my experiences on how customer satisfaction influences a company in a positive way and why focusing on internal customers, employees from the different department, satisfaction is vital for companies.
I was fortunate enough to have worked with a company like Krupa Industries, which has an employee-customer based model when it came to operations and business. Krupa Industries is a manufacturing company catering to plastic engineering solutions in various plastic moulding operations, like injection moulding, excursion moulding & blow moulding, along with their in-house plastic brand focusing on school and household plastic essential products. Their primary focus on developing a quality product was to keep their internal customer; employees and vendors motivated and satisfied for which they had many healthy practices. Some of their strategies for satisfying their internal customers are; providing meals to the employee, where the labor force who could not afford a healthy meal was benefited and motivated to work & remain in the company, as it was expensive and time-consuming for the company’s HR team to find and train a new employee. Providing them with company printed clothes which not only looked presentable but making a uniform look for shop floor workers eliminated extra expense and distraction for them. Krupa Ind. believed in investing and funding their vendors, which did their printing work, embossing work, marketing etc., which kept them satisfied and motivated to work with the company. Many more such strategies I got to learn and observe at Krupa Ind. that made me realize the importance of customer satisfaction and how it plays a major role in companies financial and production outcome. In addition, it broke my stereotype thinking of customer satisfaction was subjected to one who pays for products and services (external customer), needs more attention and focus.
During my first month, I witnessed some of their strategies; especially towards the betterment of employees, one of them that intrigued me was their cleaning practices. Every morning for an hour and a half, before the shift change, almost the whole factory came to a still and a cleaning team took over the place, by not only dusting the shop floor but with a thorough cleaning. I had an opportunity to do an internship at United Rubber Industries (URI), where such daily cleaning practice on the shop floor was not done; I could observe a difference in labor’s efficiency where Krupa Ind. workers were more effective and delivered good performance even though the company had to shut their operations. Moreover, during my initial period of internship, I was assigned to floor job duties of inspection and implementation, I felt more comfortable and motivated to work in the factory with a clean environment. In addition, I experienced some health-related benefits, as I distinctly remember falling sick a couple of times at URI whereas at Krupa Industries I did not. This experience widened my horizon and thinking towards internal customer (employee) satisfaction, if a small practice like cleaning can make a huge impact on my behavior, there were many engineering practices, which I learned during my course; I could implement some on the shop floor and assembly line to ease labor’s work and motivate them to work more effectively. I started designing some jig-fixtures for an assembly process that had a time-consuming and complex assembly. Along with that, I designed some standard fixtures for quality control team to make inspection process easy. The new operation made the employee effective by giving them some variation from their routine, and motivated them to do something new, which was another major thing I observed in manufacturing industry where employee and labors are subjected to boredom if their work is monotonous. With these design, I went to my supervisor who improved them with realistic modeling & scaling and gave me an opportunity to present this to the managing directors of the company. I was able to get some funding to manufacture the jigs and the fixtures, which are still used at Krupa Industries. On observing the employees happy with small changes in operation, either by reducing their workload or giving them a new way of operation resulted in their work and in return improving the quality of the products.
On seeing the employees reaction and noticing an increase in production outcome, it motivated me to work more. Even the management team observed these changes as they could see positive results and outcome. They gave me more freedom to work on improving their operations; this encouraged me to pursue some further studies in ergonomics. Aware of the term and the meaning of ergonomics but never had an opportunity to work on it until now. I started making small changes in the way workers operated certain machines and designed different heights of stools and chair for operators working on machines. The workers were more comfortable in working and reduced on taking breaks. Along with this, I made some small changes in the assembly line, by balancing the line and eliminating some bottleneck operations into a smooth system where an employee was engaged in some sort of activity, which killed their boredom, and stockpiling of work for some worker.
Using six sigma technique; Design-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC), I designed a survey for all departments, measured it by making all employees fill the survey and analyze the data by using statistical tools, with the help of respective managers from the department we came up with some improvement plans by using value stream mapping and making an expense to return/outcome charts. Finally controlled these implementations by making a regular checklist and use of surveys to measure the performance of the company and internal customer satisfaction. Similarly, we were able to design a survey for vendors who help Krupa Ind. in some technical and non-technical support, mutually benefiting each other. This experience taught me how customer satisfaction is a link to customer retention and it is not always about the salary or money an employee or a vendor is earning.
On seeing my performance and interest in solving problems & improving the process, one of the managing directors (Abhishek Shethia) asked me to join the consulting team, which worked on research and development on (external) customer’s needs. I was fortunate enough to have attended India’s largest plastics trade fair where we got leads to acquiring new customers. One of such customer was from a food packing and catering company, which provided packed meals to Indian railways, some flight operators, and corporates. They used polystyrene foam container, which were cheap but non-biodegradable and could not be recycled. On seeing, companies and people prefer recyclable products & work with companies, which are concern towards the environment. The company decided to switch to recycle or biodegradable containers for their food packing business. Since biodegradable containers were expensive, they decided to go with recyclable plastic containers and Krupa Ind. is a pioneer in recyclable plastic products. However, the main challenge was to deliver a cheap product without compromising on the quality of the product. On seeing some data provided by the company, regarding the number of plastic containers they would need every month and places they send these food containers. A common practice was observed where people threw away the container after using it. This could have been used to our advantage, which did. We made a contract with food packing company where we not only sold them the containers but also brought them back as they were recyclable and Krupa Ind. has a processing unit for recyclable plastic. I was the given data and made some analysis to come up with a mutually beneficiary contract that fetched the company a cheap deal and Krupa Ind. more business and a cheaper source of recycling plastic. Finally, we were able to get the contract and a satisfied customer. Now the packing company has appointed a person in every major company where they deliver food containers to ensure the containers goes in the recycling bin and delivered to us. This management system of interconnecting companies and involving the customer to be a part of Krupa Ind. helped us deliver a unique customer experience that was appreciated in the market and helped Krupa Ind. gain more business.
During this project, I was working closely with the research and development team that helped me explore another upcoming field of 3D printing. On identifying the most delaying operation in the manufacturing process in developing a new product was prototyping and testing. This affected the customer experience, as any changes demanded by the customer would affect the prototype and further delay in making a new one. Krupa Ind. used conventional prototyping technics where they had vendors develop a dummy die for making plastic prototypes. After presenting a faster solution by 3D printing and developing a prototype by using 3D printing, from a third party, our team was able to get funds to set up a 3D printing lab for rapid prototyping. This helped us deliver a better customer experience as they could see their product come to life through their own eyes, which was interesting and surprising to them. They got a real feel for the actual product and use of rendered CAD models was considered old and out fashioned.
Concluding my topic and views on customer satisfaction, it is something that has to be consistency. It takes customer-journey consistency where companies need to continually work to provide the customer with superior services and product, which is an important attribute of overall customer experience and loyalty. It also takes emotional consistency when it comes to satisfying internal customers, where a relationship of trust is developed and needs to be maintained, which ensures company’s long-term growth. Lastly, communication consistency, which goes for both external and internal customer as customer satisfaction is not a one-time practice, it needs variations and further development to deliver the best of best customer experience. Thus, communication consistency plays a vital role in customer satisfaction, which keeps the company connected to its customer.