Why enhancing product quality through technology is vital for product managers

25 October 2013

Dan Hawker

Dan Hawker

Former Head of Tobacco, Wholesale & Retail

In business terms, consumer loyalty is a rare thing that if achieved, is worth its weight in gold. With the UK showing signs of picking up during a much improved 2013, consumer goods manufacturers looking to capitalise on the upturn are wary of increased demands for quality.

It was the great industrialist Henry Ford who once said, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” But with increased consumer intelligence and media scope 100 years on, the world is very much looking.

In no uncertain terms, for manufacturers seeking to stay competitive in the market place, managing product quality is of the upmost importance to further improve consumer satisfaction, contribute to returning business and, ultimately, build long-lasting relationships.

While manufacturers everywhere know the importance of needing to produce new products while controlling costs – the big question is how to do this better and smarter than ever in the past when there in the fact of competition from lower cost countries such as China. The leveller is putting emphasis on closely managing product quality through technological means.

With technology the catalyst for what has been dubbed the third industrial revolution, it has the potential to transform all aspects of modern manufacturing.

Here are a few ideas that both product and marketing managers should consider to achieve this:

Data is your friend

In world where product recalls can adversely affect a company’s reputation and negatively impact financially, the need for companies to utilise the billions of data points it amasses is critical.

But while the importance of data as a tool of progression has increased in the age of the internet, they are looking for a way to collect and analyse data to view trends in internal processes and production to make better business decisions but lack the tools needed to turn data into knowledge.

One way consumer product companies can do this is by analysing trends with suppliers and outsourced vendors so they can drive sourcing and procurement efficiencies and reduce risk and adverse events in finished goods inventory. Quality issues in the production process can also be tracked to proactively trigger investigations to flag problems early on to prevent a product safety issue or recall that could tarnish the company’s brand and customer loyalty.

Increased collaboration

At the root of maintaining customer satisfaction is the necessity of customers being involved in the manufacturing process. Customer collaboration has been a recent rising trend in both manufacturing and retail, and will only increase over time. This also extends to communicating with suppliers. Utilising visualisation and collaboration technologies - such as digital prototyping - allows companies to more effectively engage and collaborate with stakeholders, customers and prospective business during the sales, marketing and design process.

Refining your CRM

Certainly not a new concept, Customer Relation Management has become increasingly refined. Thanks to digital platforms, customers live in a world of heightened expectations and abundant options; they can get more of what they want, in more places, at more times, than ever before.

While it is rare to find a manufacturer without an ERP system, finding one without a CRM is far less exceptional, with manufacturing playing catch up with the likes of banks, retail and utilities. While still relatively new in manufacturing, early adopters such as truck manufacturer Scania UK used Microsoft CRM to manage its entire sales process from initial enquiry through to vehicle delivery. This enabled increased focus, and provided a consistent view of the customer in terms of aftersales service and warranty claims.

There’s no doubt manufacturers can see the importance of CRM. Yet, the gap between recognising this and being able to transform that recognition into a reality that the customer can perceive needs to be bridged.

All in the research

With a step change in companies deciding now is the time to invest – one of the key trends of 2013 - consumer product manufacturers, the collective will to innovate has been resurgent.  Spending on R&D across manufacturing sectors represents 72% of all business R&D investment in the UK, showing that manufacturing carries a disproportionate majority of the country’s science-based research.

The need for innovation to drive sales didn’t disappear in tougher economic times, but both manufacturer and customer alike better understand its benefits from a commercial and reputational perspective as the recovery continues. To achieve this, an approach is needed that can reduce costs while at the same time allow companies to innovate.

Given the notable sector successes from the likes of Mondelez, Jaguar Land Rover and Airbus, who all adopted innovative methods in the design and manufacture of products, but ensured this wasn’t at the expense of quality or profit, the happy medium once thought unreachable is now very much achievable.

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