Manufacturers’ Monthly speaks with Bylaser managing director, Michael Traynor, about the importance of putting the customer first.
When Michael Traynor took over Bylaser in November 2019, he saw a business that was weighed down by rules and regulations.
The previous owners of the metal cutting business had been unwilling to invest. Poor systems and equipment were hampering growth, and the company had been competing on nothing but price.
Staff were trained to pay homage to the business’ rules. Customers’ needs were met if they fit within “the way we’ve always done things” but this was more of a lucky by-product of the business approach than a conscious plan.
It became increasingly obvious to Traynor that the one-size fits all approach didn’t in fact fit anyone. And unless the business could be re-invigorated following the loss of a number of key customers, it would slowly fade into extinction. With this in mind, Traynor was charged by the board to inject new life into the business and grow and strengthen its operations.
Traynor has always been of the view that only competing on price represents nothing but a race to the bottom. Instead Traynor introduced the concept of “Customer Centricity”, where all decisions within a business are viewed within a context of putting the customer in the centre of the circle – a philosophy that is embraced by every area of the business.
“We find out in detail what is important to our customer, and how they define excellent customer service,” Traynor said. “This involves us identifying their tolerances, preferences, delivery requirements, problems with existing suppliers, headaches and generally what’s keeping them up at night.”
“We then share this information with our department heads and together we build a bespoke service to match the customer’s needs.”
Kanban – taking uncertainty out of lead times
Traynor has found that for many customers – lead times can be a major issue. “Whether it’s in the construction industry, automotive parts, agricultural machinery or indeed any business, the failure to have materials available on time can have big knock-on effects both for the project timetable as well as negative financial implications” he said.
“In times like the present, with supply chains under increasing pressure, this has become even more critical than ever before”.
To assist these customers, Bylaser has set up a “Kanban” solution. Expected parts and volumes are forecast in advance and agreed with the customer. Customer designs and parts are drawn and held in the system. Bylaser is then able secure the necessary materials and produce and maintain the volumes required in advance. The stock is held at Bylaser with the customer drawing upon them as required. This ensures the customer has immediate access to the stock they need at a moment’s notice, slashing what could otherwise involve extended turnaround times.
“Customers also benefit from the freeing up of their working capital, with payments for the parts only being required when they have been used” Traynor said.
Since offering this service, Bylaser has found that this security of supply, together with the financial benefits of just in time delivery, has been a game changer for many customers, particularly in the uncertainty accompanying a pandemic.
Creative solutions – just from listening
“By listening to our customers and finding out what is important to them, we make it important to us,” Traynor said.
Bylaser’s customer centricity focus has seen the development of service offerings as individual as their customers.
The customer reward program was re-vamped to consider what the customer was interested in rather than the same old bottle of wine or a voucher. “When they were advised of meeting a sales milestone, one client requested we design and produce a metal sign for their new business premises. They were absolutely delighted with the result!
Traynor has seen the team’s discussions with customers bring out a variety of wishes with respect to the packing of parts. “For some customers we put tissue paper between parts to prevent scratching. Another customer requested that all parts we delivered to her should be ‘beautiful’. We designed a system where parts were individually wrapped and handled with white gloves to prevent not only scratches, but finger marks and smudges” said Traynor.
He recalls one particular job for the Australian Navy being so delicate that the managing director, sales manager and the Tier 1 service manager could all be found on their hands and knees, individually wrapping and packing each item to ensure the paint work was not damaged in transit. A new freight company was also sourced that used trucks with an upper shelf so as to minimise the risk of damage if items moved in transit.
Sometimes it is just as simple as having the Bylaser team cook up a hearty BBQ for the client’s production crew.
Competing with China
Based upon his 35 years involvement in manufacturing businesses, Traynor sees this individual approach as being a key strategy in remaining competitive in the Australian manufacturing environment and dealing with competition from cheaper Asian alternatives, particularly from China.
According to Traynor, “By adopting a bespoke customer service offering we are tackling head-on some of the inherent weaknesses of the Chinese business systems”.
“These include long lead times, quality variability, unreasonably large minimum order quantities and significant failures to meet agreed deadlines” he said. In his experience these issues have only grown since the pandemic hit and there is unlikely to be any improvement in the foreseeable future.
Traynor acknowledges that such individual customer service can come at an additional cost and compare unfavourably with the per unit prices from Asia and indeed some other local competitors.
“Although we are not always the cheapest in the market, by offering a service that exactly matches the needs of the customer, we were able to provide our customers with additional value by taking inefficient costs out of their business,” Traynor said.
The results are in
The results of the program have certainly paid off for the business. Since implementing the initiative, Bylaser’s turnover has increased by more than 50 per cent.
Traynor has also seen an increase in the amount of work won that would have traditionally been done in China. In his view, Australian businesses can compete with China when customers understand the real costs of being supplied from Asia.
The Bylaser team members have also really gotten on board with the focus on the customer. Whereas previously it was all about working within the business rules, they are now encouraged to develop connections with their customer and are empowered to develop creative solutions that make for happy customers.
“In this way we are also able to develop genuine relationships with our customers which allows us to better deal with the bumps that can occur in any relationship.”
Traynor has seen this have a positive effect on staff morale. “I’ve certainly seen an increase in team engagement and creativity since introducing our Customer Centricity strategy. There is a real buzz in the office and it’s a much more energised environment than when I first walked in the door”.
“The impact of the pandemic on the business and the economy has required us to all rise to the challenge. I am very proud of our efforts and look forward to what’s around the corner.”