IHS Chemical Week


What Chemical Firms Can Learn From 'The Office'

10:41 AM MDT | September 13, 2010 | By VINCENT VALK

Accenture's research on the preferences of chemical customers revealed many interesting things. Chief among them, probably, was that price does not trump all: product quality and reliability ranked as the most important attributes companies consider when choosing as supplier.

But price remains important. Buyers ranked price as the ninth-most important attribute, whereas suppliers ranked it a lowly twenty-sixth. I'll be honest: there's a hint of a self-serving attitude in this finding.

I'm reminded of an episode of the sitcom The Office (the U.S. version, not the British original) in which branch manager Michael buys gift baskets for former clients of the fictional paper firm Dunder Mifflin to lure them back from competitors with lower prices. A number of zany things ensue – including using a GPS to drive into a lake – but Michael's basic argument, exemplified by the gift baskets, is that lower-cost competitors will not offer Dunder Mifflin's level of customer service. The former clients were generally nonplussed by this gesture.

Your average sales manager is surely not as deluded as Michael Scott. Nevertheless, chemical suppliers ranked customer service ahead of price in Accenture's survey. Buyers did not.

I don't know very much about the paper business, but I think it's fair to assume that customer service in paper and customer service in chemicals are two very different things. The latter involves a level of technical proficiency that former, one would think, lacks.

Still, while it makes sense that a buyer would pay more for a high-quality product delivered reliably (anyone who has ever been in the market for a high-value consumer good would likely agree with that sentiment), extras like customer relationships and sustainability are just that: extras. It doesn't matter quite so much for your bottom line.

Differences between paper and chemicals notwithstanding, the survey's message to Dunder Mifflin (and chemicals firms) would likely be this: produce good stuff, deliver on your promises, and don't sweat the gift baskets.

You can learn more about what customers want and how to make sure they it at our FREE webcast "Customer Smart – The Key to Becoming a Preferred Chemicals Supplier" THIS WEDNESDAY, September 15.
Click here to register!

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