Expert's Panel

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    How do you manage customer expectations?

  1. The question has two components—expectations and desires. You can't manage your customer's desires. You can, however, manage his expectations because they ought to be what you said. The problem is a company has multiple people interacting with the customer. The Engineering Manager says to the customer, "Sure we can make that!," or the President says "Sure we can give you that order for $5.52." So your job is managing what you say, verbally and in writing, and sensitizing your people who interact with the customer. What they say is what sets customer expectations.
  2. With industry consolidation another problem arises. With three merged companies there may be three ways of dealing with the customer. Those differences are firmly implanted in the customer's mind—bridging those issues and preparing the customer requires careful consideration. Know the differences and consider the customer's likely reactions to change.
  3. A big part of expectations is the line of communication. Usually this goes through the salesperson. You need to have some control over the sales force and what is said to the customer; otherwise you will not control expectations. A key element is to tell your customer the truth. Be careful about how much of your dreams you share with the customers—they will pick up on the most optimistic thing that the salesperson says. The sales person says, "Next year we hope to cut the price of that sucker in half and turn out 500 wafers per hour." The customer won't hear the word "hope."
  4. This is one I see as a problem in every organization I have been involved with. People are afraid to tell the truth when you think you are not going to get the order or achieve something desirable. It is amazing how persistent this problem is. The fact of the matter is that our customer has trouble believing us because they have had this situation for 20 years. The answer to overcoming this problem is to recognize that the customer knows the truth already. When you tell them the truth you are then building credibility. Along with the bitter pill of the truth you do, however, need to share a bit of your dream also. Be clear that this is the truth of today, but this is where we are headed.
  5. So much of managing expectations lies inside of your relationship with your customer. The better your relationship with your customer—meaning you are in touch with them on a regular basis—the easier it is to manage their expectations and get honest information out of them. That relationship is a good mechanism for business for both of you.
  6. I'm going to give you some other opportunities to get competitive information. Hire an independent consultant—tell them exactly what you want and be specific that you will not accept any information that you gather illegally. Standards meetings at SEMI are often overlooked. It's amazing how much open information comes out in these meetings—brief whoever is your representative to look for competitive information. Know who your counterpart is in your competitor's company—get to meet them and talk to them periodically.