|Role of the frontline worker
Porous customer- supplier relationships
Ideas from customers
|Customer Contact Teams
Excerpt from Leading the Way to Competitive Excellence
by Allen Sands. All material (C) 1997 by Intersil Corporation (formerly Harris Semiconductor), ASQC Quality Press
Harris Semiconductor's Customer Contact Teams (CCT's) promote customer-supplier communications at the shop floor level. Most CCT members are manufacturing workers, and they talk directly to the customer's front-line workers. CCT's solve problems and deliver customer-specific quality improvements. They rely on three characteristics:
The CCT's Role in a Dynamic Competitive Environment
Crisis is Chinese for "danger and opportunity." This aptly describes today's business environment. "Violent and accelerating change, now commonplace, will become the grist for the opportunistic winner's mill. The losers will view such confusion as a 'problem' to be 'dealt with'" [Peters, 1987, p. 14]. Two characteristics of customer contact teams (CCTs) make them very effective tools for prospering in this environment. They use the front-line worker's skills and experience, and they shorten the customer-supplier communication pathway.
The Role of the Frontline Worker
The resources available to a business corporation include its people. Using them effectively can provide a decisive advantage over a competitor with equal or even superior physical resources. Armand Feigenbaum (1991, 207) writes, "the most underutilized resource of many companies is the knowledge and skill of employees." W. Edwards Deming said, "The greatest waste in America is failure to use the abilities of people" [Covey, 1991, 264].
Tom Peters  says that the front-line worker knows more about a job than anyone else. He or she handles the production equipment, raw materials, and subassemblies every day. While the manufacturing worker may lack a college degree, engineers and managers do not have the worker's extensive, detailed, hands-on experience. From a management or engineering perspective, incoming materials and parts must meet certain specifications. Front-line experience may show, however, that the specifications do not guarantee that materials will work under manufacturing conditions. Therefore, front-line worker involvement can often produce additional solutions or improvements.Porous Customer-Supplier Relationships
W. Edwards Deming said to "break down barriers between departments." The CCT extends this guidance to customer-supplier barriers. It makes the supplier, to use Tom Peters' term, porous to customers. Peters (1988) says that porosity makes organizations flexible, and responsive to diverse customer needs.
This principle applies to all forms of information transfer. Figure 6.1 shows the traditional customer-supplier communication chain. [The figure shows that information must pass through several departments at both the customer and supplier. Another figure compares it to direct, face to face communications on the factory floor.] Suppose the customer's workers are having trouble with a supplier's parts or materials. They complain to their manufacturing engineers or managers. The latter pass the complaint on to Purchasing. The Purchasing department contacts the supplier's Sales department. The Sales people contact their own manufacturing engineers or managers. The latter may or may not discuss the problem with the front-line workers. They may not understand why there is a problem, if the shipment met specifications. There are two deficiencies in this communication process. (1) It is slow because information must pass through several departments. (2) The process loses information because the people who use the product do not talk to those who make it.
Peters (1988, p. 14) specifically advocates having front-line workers interact with customers and suppliers. "…the 'average' person, … will routinely be out and about- that is, first-line people communicating directly with suppliers, customers, etc. Who is the person who best knows what's wrong with defective suppliers? Obviously, the front-line person who lives with the defective item eight hours a day…" Peters also says front-line workers can work with suppliers to improve quality or productivity (1988, p. 18).Getting Ideas from Customers
Harris Corporation's first customer contact project started in 1898. The company was not then in the electronics business, it sold printing equipment. Charles and Alfred Harris sold an E-1 Harris Automatic envelope feeder to the Enterprise Printing Company in Columbus, Ohio. The machine's function was to feed envelopes into printing presses.
Alfred Harris was installing the E-1 on the customer's shop floor when
a printing error happened at a nearby workstation. A worker who was hand
feeding sheets into the printing press missed a sheet. The pressman showed
visible dismay. Harris did not understand why, so the pressman ran another
sheet through the press to show what had happened. Because of the missing
sheet, the press had printed the image on the impression cylinder. The
cylinder then placed a reverse image on the next sheet that went through
Learn more about self-directed work teams and customer contact teams at Intersil Corporation's plant in Mountaintop, PA: Leading the Way to Competitive Excellence: The Harris Mountaintop Case Study tells the story.
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