How Manufacturers Can Create Value by Reducing Friction

reducing friction

How Manufacturers Can Create Value by Reducing Friction

You care about your manufacturing customers. Your team works tirelessly to provide value in the form of high-quality parts and products. And you’re constantly on the lookout for opportunities to exceed customer expectations.

Unfortunately, however, providers of manufacturing services often overlook one of the best ways to create value. This value-add isn’t flashy or expensive, but the impact is immediate, and the results are long-lasting.

Every manufacturing business can create real value for customers by reducing friction. 

Understanding Friction in Manufacturing

Let’s begin with a deep dive into the meaning of friction for manufacturing businesses and their customers.

Friction is anything that creates a slower, sloppier, more complicated customer experience and alienates the very people you seek to serve. 

Your manufacturing skills may be top-tier, but if your customer experience is riddled with friction, customers won’t remember the quality of your work; they’ll remember how difficult it was to work with you—and they won’t return.

High friction vs. low friction

If you want to add value to your business, begin by identifying areas of customer friction.

We’ve all experienced both high-friction and low-friction buying experiences. Examples include:

  • Taking a ride with Uber: low friction
  • Filling out paperwork at a doctor’s office: high friction
  • Eating dinner at a restaurant where the staff knows your name: low friction
  • Applying for a mortgage: high friction

So what makes a manufacturing experience high- or low-friction? First, let’s explore what value means to your customers.

Understanding Value

It’s essential to recognize that your business never defines value. Your customers define value. And how do customers perceive value?

According to sales experts, customers don’t buy products; they buy good feelings and solutions to problems. A direct way to solve your customer’s problems while making them feel great is to minimize friction by delivering what they want in the easiest, fastest, lowest-hassle way possible.

Value vs. price

Most customers will gladly pay more for a high-value, low-friction experience. But for a customer to perceive their experience as high-value, they must feel that the value they received is greater than the price they paid.

Here’s what that means:

  • Value > Cost: you’ve earned a repeat customer 
  • Value = Cost: there’s a 50/50 chance that the customer will return
  • Value < Cost: the customer will be unhappy and won’t buy from you again 

Fight These 3 High-Friction Scenarios to Create More Value for Your Manufacturing Customers

Now that you’ve seen what constitutes value for your customer, let’s look at three common examples of friction in manufacturing services: 

1. Making the wrong part or product

This mistake isn’t just about flat-out manufacturing the incorrect part. It can also mean making more than the customer wanted or misunderstanding your customer’s true needs. 

Or, if what your customer has asked for doesn’t technically align with what they actually want, they will perceive the final product as the wrong thing.

To prevent these unfortunate outcomes, you need a clear, organized system for obtaining technical requirements and specifications from your customer, and you must be able to provide clarity on cost and lead time.

These internal assessments can help you reduce friction from pre-production to final delivery:

  • Do you help your customers understand their product’s technical requirements? Having precise, accurate technical requirements cuts down on time and cost. 
  • How do you help your customers design a more manufacturable product? Design for Manufacturing and Design for Assembly ensure that the end product aligns with a customer’s vision.
  • Are you a problem-solver for your customers? Can you help them navigate challenges and implement solutions? The more guidance you provide, the better the results will be for your customers and your business.
  • Do you validate your customers’ product requirements even on reorders? Customer needs evolve, and you should evaluate and update specifications accordingly.

2. Not knowing how to make a part or product

Any manufacturer who has ever made a part or product knows there are standards, regulations, industry guidelines, and more to follow. There may even be multiple manufacturing methods you need to understand, as well as how to apply them. 

From injection molding to CNC machining to 3D printing, manufacturers require extensive experience and knowledge to grasp the overlap of standards and processes.

In many manufacturing businesses, that knowledge is “tribal” in nature, meaning your most experienced people have valuable information stored in their heads. And while that’s an impressive feat, your team must move toward comprehensively documenting that knowledge in a way that’s accessible to the entire organization.

When expert instructions are readily available throughout your company, customers benefit from an error-free, time-efficient, repeatable process that will serve them long-term.

3. Waiting for someone to respond or something to happen

Lean manufacturing is a hugely valuable practice for any manufacturing business to embrace. Both the manufacturer and the customer benefit from minimized waste and maximized productivity.

When a project stalls because you or your customer are waiting for someone or something, it can be tough to regain your momentum and the customer’s trust.

A few of the most common causes of delays are easily fixable:

  • Customers find the RFQ experience to be complicated
  • It takes a long time to build and return a quote
  • There’s a misunderstanding of expectations
  • Customers can’t get their questions answered
  • Requirements and specifications are poorly defined
  • Customers feel out of the loop during the production process
  • The manufacturer over-communicates and becomes a nuisance to the customer

Anything that prompts a hard stop in manufacturing services damages the customer experience by contributing to increased costs and lead times.

Where to Begin

Identifying high-friction practices may feel daunting. But you don’t need to address every issue at once. Instead, take one step at a time. It doesn’t matter where you begin; only that you begin. Here’s a three-step approach to follow: 

  • Take a long, hard look at customer complaints. Negative feedback can hurt, but examining it is an easy way to identify problem areas. If you don’t have any customer complaints, you may need to ask for feedback more proactively. Implement a straightforward, low-friction approach to collecting feedback after every job.
  • Outline the complete customer journey. List all your business’s customer interaction points, and rate those engagements by how much friction the customer experiences.
  • Develop an action plan for each improvement opportunity. You may need to adopt technology solutions, eliminate bottlenecks, or provide additional training. Many solutions are straightforward, inexpensive, or free. Remember: small steps are better than none at all.

Everyone Wins When Friction Is Low

Does it surprise you to know that a low-friction customer experience is more valuable than an impeccable product? That’s right: if your business delivers an unmatched, low-friction customer experience, chances are you’ll win that customer’s business every time—even if your product isn’t necessarily the latest and greatest. 

Our affinity for painless encounters is why we keep using Uber or going to our favorite restaurant. A low-friction experience is essentially unbeatable when creating value for customers.

As you systematically reduce areas of friction and make it easy for your customers to get what they want, your speed and ease of manufacturing will improve, and overall customer value will increase. Your customers will be happier, and you’ll find that your manufacturing business is more fulfilling than ever. 

Want to learn more about how Alchemy Industrial ensures low-friction manufacturing services? Check out our podcast, Manufacture Houston, and listen to episodes 21 and 23!