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How to Adapt to Customers Changing Their Minds

Apr 14, 2017

Has this ever happened in your shop: You invest a considerable amount of time and energy to make a customer happy and then … they change their mind. You’re back to square one, with nothing to show for it.

Change can be frustrating. But how you handle it sets you apart from the competition. Instead of getting mad, get focused. Try to understand the “why” behind the change so you can respond appropriately.

Why is this happening to me?

It’s not you. Change is inevitable. And believe it or not, the decision probably didn’t change with the winds or for any arbitrary reason. Usually there’s a serious underlying reason behind the reversal. For example:

  • Missed requirements. Sometimes stakeholders are too close to a product and inadvertently overlook features or requirements.
  • Defects. Bugs can surface late in the game — and can’t be ignored.
  • Misunderstandings. It’s not uncommon to share work in progress (WIP) with a stakeholder only to find out you’re not on the same page. And sometimes, what clients need and what they ask for are different things.
  • Politics. When leadership changes (or power shifts) in a large organization, priorities can change, too. Sometimes that affects requirements.
  • Supply chain disruption. Sometimes materials can’t be delivered on time or reliably, so adjustments must be made. Supply and equipment issues anywhere along the supply chain can cause customers to switch directions.
  • Marketplace adjustments. If a competitor beats you to market, you might need to rework a product to add more features and benefits.
  • Regulations. Modifications may be dictated by law if you’re working on a regulated product.

How to respond to change

Flexible and agile organizations have protocols and tools in place to support smooth and rapid change. To respond to customer changes, you need:

  • Communications plans. First off, make sure you have an appropriate channel to receive and document feedback and change requests. Creating the process in advance means you have time to think through who needs the information — and who needs to be included in decisions — and how they should be communicated with. Don’t wing it. Create a protocol that details the form, frequency and tone of content that needs to be shared when change occurs.
  • An agile mindset. Agile businesses work in short iterations to capture project requirements and continuous feedback. This mindset prepares you to be proactive and open to change, rather than resistant or reactionary. Expect change as the natural evolution of a project.
  • Scheduling expertise. Customer redirection can throw production off track. Aim for fluid processes, maximum efficiency and minimal work in progress. An ERP can help you rebalance workloads and shift priorities with minimal downtime. Look at processes independently to root out inefficiencies and streamline routing.
  • Balanced inventory. Changes can impact inventory and when you need it. Once again, an ERP can give you a snapshot of what’s happening on the floor and where resources are allocated so you can adjust quickly.

Tools for change

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software can help you implement these best practices. Move past frustration and immediately into problem-solving mode with dashboards, analytics and planning tools. And since everyone is connected in an ERP, it’s easy to keep everyone up to date.

Artificial intelligence can also help with communication and process improvement.

How Wipfli can help

Wipfli can’t stop customer changes from happening, but we can make sure your shop is prepared to handle them with speed and a smile. How you work under pressure is important — it can make or break customer relationships.

Contact our manufacturing ERP specialists for strategies and technologies to make your shop more agile and responsive.

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Mark Stevens
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