Answer the Reason for the Question

When coaters and finishers get questions from clients, Matthew Kirchner suggests addressing the concern behind the question.


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Who are your competitors? How often do you test your waste effluent? Is your shipping and receiving dock open on Saturdays?

Some of the biggest missed opportunities in growing a finishing business come in the form of how finishers answer questions like these when they are posed by potential customers.

Finishers tend to be precise people, living in a world of mils and micro-inches, salt spray hours, and tight pH and temperature ranges. When a potential client visits the plant for a tour, doggonit, they are going to get perfectly accurate answers to their questions!

So when a potential customer asks who the finisher’s direct competitors are, they get their answer. When they ask how often waste effluent is tested for compliance, the answer might be daily, weekly or monthly. Whatever the accurate answer is, that is what the visitor is told. If the shipping department is closed on Saturdays, then the answer to the question of whether it is open is a precise and flat “No.”

In each of these cases, an opportunity to assuage the customer’s concern and/or show the finisher’s operation in an even more positive light is missed because the finisher answered the question rather than considering the reason for the question and addressing that.

The inquirer likely isn’t just asking who the finisher’s competitors are out of curiosity. They want to know who else they should be asking to provide a quote for their work. Rather than providing a laundry list of competitors, the better answer might be, “There are dozens of powder coaters out there, but nobody that matches our range of color options and on-time delivery.”

The question about waste effluent testing frequency is likely driving at overall environmental compliance. Instead of simply responding that internal testing is completed monthly, another way of answering the question could be, “We test our effluent once a month but we rely on engineering controls to ensure that our treatment system is operating effectively and we check these variables every hour. We know this approach is effective because we haven’t had an internal or outside test that was over our limits in more than 20 years.”

The asker isn’t just interested in whether the dock is open on Saturdays, they want to know whether a really hot expedite can be accommodated. Assuming the dock is closed on Saturdays, consider saying “We are typically not open on Saturdays to give our team members some time with their families but we never let a customer down so we will always find a way to accommodate an expedite for our customers.” Another potential response could start by asking the customer if Saturday hours are important to them and why, and then addressing the reasons Saturday hours might be important to the potential customer. 

Let’s consider the “why” behind other common questions.

Inquiries about downtime measurements aren’t just seeking a numerical percentage. The inquirer wants to know how reliable the finisher’s equipment and maintenance procedures are and, ultimately, whether maintenance issues could jeopardize delivery. 

The potential client that asks about whether the finisher has a regular plant shutdown every summer wants to know if it will affect standard lead times and service.

A query about the finisher’s parts-per-million rejects opens an opportunity to talk about continuous improvement programs. Answering this question with something like, “Last month, the number was 22 but we expect it to improve.  Three years ago we averaged 350 and we have steadily decreased it since instituting regular kaizen events.”

A customer who quizzes the finisher about the number of shifts the plant runs or how much current capacity is being consumed is wondering whether there will be enough room for their work and whether the finisher has the ability to absorb surges in volume. Answer these questions with the plan for expansion if capacity becomes constrained in the future.

Use questions about how many people work in the waste treatment department or in customer service to address the embedded concerns on the part of the asker as to whether adequate backup talent exists if a key team member is on vacation, out sick or leaves the company.

A visitor who asks about how often new finishing process are added really wants to know whether the finisher is innovating and staying on top of changes in finishing technology. Give them examples.

Questions about what the final inspection sample size is or who works the final inspection are great opportunities to talk about how quality is built into the entire process so that the finisher isn’t relying solely on final inspection to prevent a nonconforming part from making it through the process.

The list of potential questions is virtually limitless but the point should be clear. When a potential customer asks a question, don’t just answer the question, answer the reason for it.