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The New “Have It Your Way”

Can a more personalized customer experience make your company king?
  • Philip E. Quigley
September/October 2016

My last couple of semesters teaching at California State University, Fullerton were very interesting, to say the least. During class discussions, it became quite clear to me that young people are putting some very specific demands on today’s companies. Put simply, they want products the way they want them. Said another way, they want to customize products and services to meet their specific desires and needs—and they want their items immediately and at a reasonable price.

Supply chain professionals know that these kind of demands require a build-to-order system that delivers quickly. So, how can a company or plant be redesigned into a custom-producing factory? Two crucial steps toward making this happen are carefully studying the marketplace and then determining how to make existing products more personalized.

One key to achieving this objective is developing a customer-friendly website through which people can quickly review, select, and explain what they want. Ideally, this is done with little-to-no human assistance. Rather, the system should have an option for the customer to talk to a service representative, but the actual calls or chats are kept to a minimum. To do this, you first must dedicate some time to reviewing your system’s human interface experience in order to ensure that customers can accurately communicate their desires.

The quality question

Once the order point is fine-tuned, it’s time to focus on quality. My students made it clear that this is a major driver. When a box arrives on the customer’s doorstep, gets taken inside, and is opened up, everything has to be perfect. You only get one chance in this business model: If something goes wrong, you have lost a customer. And this may not be just one customer. Instead, when someone is unhappy, his or her social media posts, texts, emails, and more relay that information to countless friends and followers. You don’t want to deal with a viral event about how poorly you served a customer.

Deliver on it

Distribution comes next. The longer the lead time, the less they will be willing to pay. A key insight from my student discussions involved immediate delivery. Three-to-five days was the ideal.

Perhaps most importantly, remember that you are implementing a business strategy, not just changing around some things in the plant. Let the customer make the final decisions.

You have the chance to build deep relationships with your customers, both through the current sale and by tapping into what they are thinking about purchasing in the future. They can tell you about things they do and don’t like about your company or products, and they can give you valuable information about your competition, if you ask the right questions. Entering this new, tailor-made world will be difficult if you haven’t done something like this before, but it can be the key to success and survival.

Philip E. Quigley, CFPIM, PMP, is senior project manager at Ingram Micro and an adjunct professor in the department of management at California State University, Fullerton. He may be contacted at  

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