The Power of Knowing Your True Customers
It is very easy to overlook how important the Printed Circuit Board industry is, both domestically and worldwide. Many designers, fabricators, and assembly shops have voiced their desires for greater recognition, and the IPC is even lobbying on Capitol Hill for increased federal notice and support. And yet, I truly believe the greater danger is that WE (the designers, fabricators, and assemblers) might forget how important our role is. Even more specifically, I want to challenge us as an industry to step back and remember who our real customers are… the end users of the products for which we supply the electronic frameworks. Refocusing on the reality of who we serve as an industry will have positive and permeating effects; some of which will be discussed below.
Although plenty of part numbers go through our shop which are classified and their end use is unclear, it is still quite possible to recognize the end users and the importance of performing quality work. Products, processes, and chains are only as strong as their weakest link; and narrowing our focus too far on one spot in the product development cycle can have catastrophic consequences. Our company, Cirexx International, does a fair bit of work within the defense industry. For this reason, I will use the following hypothetical example as a reference.
“Although PN xxxxxxx is a simple 6 layer rigid-flex, it plays a critical role within a hand-held communications device our warfighters in Iraq rely on and expect to be functioning regardless of extreme conditions. It’s failure, delamination, improper design could mean life or death for a whole troop. And we all know who our military serves… us.”
If we focus on and remember who our end user is, the technical nature of our boards, our workplace morale, and our general business practices will all be affected.
If we were to keep in mind the big picture of who we serve with our products, many technical aspects of our products would be affected. Most notable, I believe quality and quality assurance would improve. Technicians, managers, suppliers, etc would all hold themselves to a high moral standard above and beyond their ISO or corporate quality mandate. Responsiveness to issues and concerns on the part of the customer would increase. Recognizing that each delay in the product life-cycle keeps a potentially life-saving product out of production and out of the hands of our soldier, nurse, pilot, etc for a greater period of time. Paperwork and voicemails will have less likelihood of being put off until the afternoon, the end of the week, etc. And lastly, collaboration will improve. Although it is not necessarily the job of the lamination technician to determine proper materials for use in the final product, they may have some knowledge of past performance that the designers did not. Whether it’s that they heard from a colleague that a particular thickness of laminate has been having issues in extreme temperatures, or in humidity. Knowing that the board will be in a product in use in the rain forest may happen to be a huge help.
Not only will the technical integrity of your boards increase, but also workplace morale and spirit. Employee sense of ownership and duty will grow when their understanding of the big picture increases and the tunnelvision we often fall susceptible to is countered. This will lead to increased attention to detail, greater job satisfaction, and a greater sense of community within your organization and between organizations.
Lastly, recognition of the true impact your company’s product has will lead to changes in how your business operates. Customer service and support will take greater precedence. Also, capital improvements and research/development will take greater priority. Recognition of the ways we need to remain competitive, and provide the most cutting edge products to our customers will occur when we step back and think about the importance we play in the lives of so many people.
Who are your customers? Your real customers… probably people who have never and will never hear of you. Yet it is them who you serve, it is for them that we work day and night, providing the highest quality products with the best customer support and responsive attitudes possible.
What other improvements do you feel would occur if we were to all continually remind ourselves of these things? Feel free to comment below.