Taking a chance: the changing face of manufacturing

Putting the customer at the centre of manufacturing processes has been a change that Amber Burdett-Dow has been happy to lead. Manufacturers’ Monthly reports.

Reflecting back on a career in customer service for gas and welding equipment firm BOC, Amber Burdett-Dow remembered her initial confrontation with the stereotypes and assumptions that she and her friends had about the industry.

“It might not be known as the most modern and innovative business out there,” recalled Burdett-Dow.

But having a bit of inside knowledge of the organisation, having worked for a recruiting company contracted by chemical and gas supplier BOC, Burdett-Dow decided to take the leap from the corporate world into manufacturing. Today, after 15 years with the organisation, Burdett- Dow knows that her experience has exceeded those initial expectations and encouraged others to be open to making the same shift.

“Take a chance. You don’t know what it’s like until you actually jump in and really have a go,” recommended Burdett-Dow.

When Burdett-Dow joined BOC in the position of resourcing specialist, she was struck by the camaraderie of the employees.

“Although the organisation was very large and a manufacturing company it had a great culture and it really valued its people and I think that’s what appealed to me at the time.”

At the time, during the mid 2000s, the company was an established part of the Australian manufacturing landscape, before the forces of deregulation and global supply chains led to Australian enterprises to rapidly adapt to a new operating environment. Moving from resourcing to customer service meant that Burdett-Dow was at the forefront of adapting the company to this new operating environment.

“BOC has really had to take a 180 degree approach to what we do in manufacturing to remain competitive, to maintain a strong reputation,” she said. “Typically, these days, we’re not competing with other gas organisations, we’re competing with the experiences that our customers have as consumers,” said Burdett- Dow, comparing the customer experience at BOC to that when a consumer interacts with utilities, services or sophisticated online businesses.

In her role at BOC, Burdett- Dow has been part of the push to simplify customer process and pursue digital communication platforms so that customers can access information in real time about their orders, accounts and further information regarding the applications of the product.

“One project that we’re working on is to provide customers with proactive communication around what’s going on with their accounts and what’s the latest information about cylinders and gas. It’s much more of a proactive approach with how we communicate and interact with customers,” said Burdett-Dow.

Previously, these communications were handled by a specific team or individual, Burdett-Dow is now finding that customers are interested in having a relationship with the entire organisation, and this means that communication within the organisation must be seamless and coherent.

Pursuing this aim within BOC has led to Burdett-Dow adopting a whole of organisation approach to customer service, particularly as she moved from managing BOC’s call centres to taking the lead role for customer service in the Asia- Pacific for BOC. Instead of putting the obligation for customer service only on the sales representative or customer service role, Burdett- Dow has pushed for customer service to be front-of-mind for all BOC employees.

“In some of these roles, it’s difficult for people to see how they can improve the customer experience. But, as you start to work with non-customer facing teams and join the dots between the outputs within their role and the needs, wants and expectations of customers it becomes clear. We all have a part to play in creating a great customer experience,” explained Burdett-Dow.

Taking this new philosophy of customer service management to a large organisation such as BOC required Burdett-Dow to draw on all the skills she had developed over the past decade with BOC adopting a cross-functional approach to managing improvement projects.

“These days, within manufacturing companies, you can’t operate in silos; you have to operate cross-functionally to make the experience a great one for our customers but also for our employees as well,” said Burdett-Dow.

These efforts were recognised in June this year at the Women in Industry Awards 2019, where Burdett-Dow was nominated for and then won the Excellence in Manufacturing award, sponsored by CSR.

For Burdett-Dow, receiving this award is a sign that the changes she has been driving have had an impact.

“It is not only the people that I work with today that are recognising my efforts in the customer experience space – it’s also the people that I’ve worked with at BOC and beyond for twenty-odd years that have reached out and said that what I do is making a difference,” she said.

Burdett-Dow said that working within an organisation such as BOC has allowed her to find a community that supports the work that she has done. Thinking back to when she first began with the company, Budett- Dow described how she had initially observed that the company highly values its employees, and that this approach had continued to supported her throughout her employment.

“I come to work to make a difference for our customers and to work with the amazing people within our organisation,” said Burdett-Dow. “We’re all very passionate about moving things forward and making BOC an even better business for the future, whatever gets thrown our way.”