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Special Focus

Diecutter/Diemaker Communication - Success or Failure in Business

by Robert A. Larson

May-June, 2002
This is true in all aspects of personal and business life. This is especially true when two parties to any situation fail to communicate ideas, expectations, needs or requirements to another party and that results in an unsatisfactory conclusion. The result often is a missed opportunity, a misunderstanding of what was supposed to happen or in the case of placing an order for something, one or more important or minor elements of the order are either missing or incorrectly fulfilled.

As a cutting die manufacturer for many years, I learned quickly in business that if you want to have a successful business, you have to pay attention to details and question a customer on every little part of an order. Then when I place the customerís order in my own shop, I try to make the order as ďidiot proofĒ as possible, providing every detail needed on the shop order form. I left nothing for interpretation, guessing or questioning. If something was not clear to me on the customerís order, on a drawing, print or sample, I was on the phone like greased lightning asking questions to get the answer. A successful business relationship only developes when a vendor and his or her customer totally understands each otherís needs.

A key word in the above sentence is the word Ďrelationshipí. Most successful parties to a business relationship have the ability to totally understand each otherís needs and expectations. This goes far beyond placing an order for a cutting, embossing or a hot stamping die or building some tooling for a customer. I have been a student of the Japanese business environment for many years. In my 25 plus trips to Japan, I have learned a great deal in how long-term successful relationships are developed. Those relationships have the common element of successful communications.

When I first went to Japan, I soon discovered that our American model of a salesman going to a customerís office, giving his sales pitch and then expecting to close the sale just does not work in Japan. Our western Ďhurried-upí sales environment does not fly in the land of the rising sun. First of all in Japan, you generally need an introduction to meet a prospective client. Often, an appointment is arranged through a third party. Once you have an appointment to see the individual that you want to do business with, the introduction and getting to know one another can be a timely process. Your prospective customer has to get to know the person with whom he is going to do business. A certain period of time is required for each party to learn more about one another. In the beginning, business is not the main item of conversation. It is more about getting to know one another. This opens the door to a good basis of communication between the two parties.

It is only after the initial Ďget to know one anotherí period is over that the process of talking business begins. This may seem like an ever-lasting period of time to the western businessperson, but the process develops an excellent business relationship based on good communication skills.

At some point, the parties get down to business and then orders are forthcoming. Some may say that this procedure is timely and bulky by western standards. It is important that both sides have a confidence in or reliance on each other so that neither side loses face to the other. The bottom line is that they have developed excellent communications between each other.

Now, letís look at the other side of the story, especially in the west. In many cases, customers and vendors try to do business without a personal basis of understanding one another or each otherís business. An example of how impersonal business is being conducted today is the creation of what is called reverse auctions on the Internet. An end user posts his requirements for an order in an auction website and then waits for vendors to bid on his business, looking for the lowest price. After hearing from a number of sources, this process has many faults. The most apparent fault is taking the human element out of the equation, thereby creating a lack of personal knowledge of what a customer wants and needs. It is difficult to reduce this to a series of facts or statements on a website page. Ordering a complex cutting die or an intricate design of some sort of packaging is probably not the ideal place for conducting business on the Internet.

Two-way communication between a buyer and a seller make for a successful transaction that results in the buyer getting exactly what he wanted from his vendor. This is a case where people communicate ideas and needs. I am the first to admit that the computer has been an essential part in developing information to allow for excellent communications between parties.

Create a Detailed Database

An essential part of successful communications today is the creation of a detailed database of information on each and every customer, even your prospective customers that you would like to do business with someday. The computer database program can record every salient detail of a customerís business requirements. It provides a sales person or the order department with all the information tools to conduct business. Of course you still need the human element to make it all work properly.

Success is determined in how an individual can remember many details and specifications of a customerís operations. You just cannot keep all this information on a 3Ēx5Ē card or in a paper notebook. I can remember the salesman of old who had his little black customer book. It was his private property. It was not to be shared or seen by others. If something happened to the salesman, or he went on to another company his little black book went with him.

Today, customer information is too valuable to be locked away in a private black book. Today, the success of business information is the creation of a company database with all the information that can be entered on a customer, including information on his production process, materials and specifications for order, and the human element side (such as simple information like the customerís birth date). While all this information could possibly be stored in oneís head, it is probable that important facts could be left out or confused with other customers. The human mind is a wonderful thing, but it functions even more dynamically when it has a resource such as a database of information on call at all times. The worst thing a salesman can do is to assume that a customer wants this or that. Those assumptions often lead to errors.

Be Order-specific

Now letís take a look at the order department of any typical company. I will go back to my order department at Boston Cutting Die Company. Even with a wealth of information on a customer, there are times that a person had to question an order or elements of an order. It is that human element with a long history or knowledge of a customer that make the difference between a success or failure. I can remember receiving orders from a customer that were missing one or more key or minor elements of information. It took a little extra effort to make a call to the customer to ask a question or two or to clarify a point or two on an order.

I see many diemakers who produce dies for a customer not knowing what type of cutting press the die is going to be used on or what material is being cut, embossed or hot stamped. To me this is a slippery road to making an error or omission in an order. It is easy to make up the die with some blind faith that it will work. In most cases it will, but in some cases it doesnít or not to its fullest potential. Then the customer blames the supplier for shoddy or incorrect work. In more cases than not, the result for a botched order was a basic lack of good communication skills.

Yes, many diemakers that I have talked to say that their customers donít give them all the detailed information that they need to make a die. That is a familiar story. So, they accept the order and do their best. This is not good enough. This is not acceptable; but unfortunately many people do it every day.

Going back to Japan for a moment, delivering an order that is not 100 percent correct is a black mark against the vendor. A customer expects no less than a 100 percent perfect order. To do less, a vendor loses face and future business. It is understood that the buyer and seller know exactly what each other needs for information. Less than perfect performance is unacceptable. Itís that simple. One criticism that many Japanese have with American products is that they are received with one or more minor flaws or mistakes. In the west this may be okay, but not to the Japanese. It rightly infuriates them to realize that their vendor did not care enough to do the job 100 percent the first time around.

To ship a die that is not perfect, to ship an order of diecut parts that is not 100 percent to specification should not be tolerated anywhere. But in the west, traditionally at least in the past, if something was wrong, well you could always fix it. If 98 percent of the parts were okay, then donít sweat the small stuff on the 2 percent that were rejects. After all, there often is not time to do it right the first time, but there is always time to fix it on the second go around! Ever hear that one before? It is all a state of mind. It is the way people are trained, motivated and expected to accept responsibility for their actions. In Japan, you would lose face. That is not acceptable. In the west we often shrug it off without a second thought.

Communication is a two way street. A buyer can not expect excellent results unless he or she gives all the pertinent information on a order for a die, a part or some job that has to be cut, embossed or foil stamped. The seller, on the other hand, has to know that he or she has asked every conceivable question to insure that the order is made to his or her customerís total satisfaction. Often, a botched order is the direct result of a miscommunication of needs or expectations in the transaction process by either one or both parties.

Why do many customers get angry at a vendor? Were there too many mistakes? Did the seller fail to meet specifications or tolerances? Was some part of the order made incorrectly? Did someone just screw up? Did someone fail to check out every detail of the order before shipment? All of the above can be pointed back to some omission of good communications. Often it is a blame of both parties to some degree.

Establish a Relationship

In some cases it may be that the parties have not established a close interdependent relationship with one another. In todayís, ďbuy it cheap and get it fastĒ environment, many may say that they do not have the luxury of developing a relationship. I beg to differ with that outlook. Let us look again to business relationships in Japan. They are based in many cases upon an understanding and trust developed over a long initial courtship between a buyer and a seller. To them, communication is a key element of a successful business relationship.

What I have been talking about is just common sense, at least to me. Anyone who sincerely invests time and energy in developing a good customer is a fool not to understand how important it is to create and maintain good communication at all levels of the business environment. Any simple question deserves a rapid response. That simple question may just become a stumbling block to the success of an order or future business.

Today we have many tools to assist us in providing excellent communication. We are always in communication with a cell phone, a pager or even a wireless PDA unit. We most often have access to a computer in the office or a notebook computer on the road with a database of information on a customer. We are fortunate to have the tools that we have to conduct business. We certainly are a jump ahead of our forefathers who relied on the little black book, a pencil and an order book with a couple of sheets of carbon paper and their memory to get everything right the first time around. Letís use our modern technology to its utmost to perfect the art of communication to the success of all our businesses. The bottom line is that it takes human intervention to make effective communication work in all areas of business and life.

Robert Larson is an international consultant to the diecutting process with over 50 years of experience in the diecutting, embossing and foil stamping industry. He publishes a quarterly journal, DDIN International, on the diecutting process and organizes and presents the Diecutting Symposium Educational Conference and Exhibition in Asia, Europe and North America. Visit www.dieco.com for more information on the diecutting process. Contact Robert with comments or questions at larson@dieco.com.