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  • Randy Ouimet

What is Customer Ownership?

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

I see a lot of companies and consultants expressing their Customer Engagement capabilities and how they can teach you or help you Engage the customer. So what makes Customer Ownership different?

My start in the mining and tunneling business almost happened by accident. My father was basically a semi-pro athlete who started working in mine warehouse and procurement departments when his hockey and ball playing days were over. Most of what he learned about the business was through on the job training with some mining company or vendor sponsored courses. He did become a certified Purchasing agent. I am the mistake from the lake. My brother and two sisters were out of the house by the time my father decided to make a mercurial ascent up mining company procurement ladders which led to moving every second year or less and my mother and I learning about which sales reps had the best approach and which companies did the best work. It wasn't at all, all about the product. Mining products have notoriously shorter lives that a similar product used in a surface industrial environment. The best sales reps and vendors worked diligently to increase the life of the products they sold. Those that didn't, in my father's mind, did not have the integrity to receive additional orders.

Fast forward 10 years and I found myself in what turned out to be the best learning environment I could have ever asked for as a reluctant mining products sales rep. I had just spent a year working "inside sales" in Canada's only underground development and production equipment manufacturer at the time, INCO owned Continuous Mining Systems in Sudbury, Canada. INCO was not all too happy that Jarvis Clark had closed its doors and wanted to keep mining equipment manufacturing open in Canada, and also wanted to design and build its own equipment for the new Vertical Crater Retreat bulk mining method which would prove to save INCO in the 1980's. GO 60 and CD 90 down the hole drill rigs; the infamous CL1000 and CL450 Oscilloaders; Eagle Crushers; the very successful CJ Series Development Jumbos with Montabert Drifters (my father bought a fleet of Montabert Drifters for the jumbos at Denison Mines and celebrated the potential savings of $1M CAD per year in drill steel and energy costs savings with mom and me when I was younger) and CBL Locomotives and more. There were roughly 120 pieces of equipment working at 10 different Sudbury area INCO Mines when I started going to INCO as a Technical Sales Representative. I could not have been a less technical representative. I was not a mining or mechanical engineer but had just taken what many thought was a bird course in Audio Visual Communications at Cambrian College (two year diploma). That course taught us about communication: how to encode and deliver a message so that it can be decoded easily and properly by the reader, viewer or listener. Of course, there was also Duncan Hutchison Mining Methods 101 which I took every evening.

Once out in the mines, I realized very quickly that there were some serious communication gaps between CMS and mama INCO which were creating significant problems in the vendor customer relationship. For example, CMS had a four digit serial number system for their builds but INCO had a three digit Entity number system for their assets. Parts Manuals were regularly months later in delivery than the machines so when the INCO maintenance planner had to order some replacement parts, the planner would call the CMS Customer Service Department,

"Hi Barry, this Jack at North Mine. I have ITH number 597 down for a drivehead. Do you have an exchange drivehead in stock?" "Thanks for calling Jack, can you tell me the CMS serial number?" "No, I cannot. Why are you guys so stupid? Don't we own you".

I happened to be in the customer service department when this conversation took place. "Barry, what was that?" "Happens all the time Randy. We didn't log the INCO entity numbers for the gear we sold to INCO when the machines were loaded on the trucks for delivery. We do our best to cross reference the numbers over the phone but not all customers are as forgiving as others. We're losing a lot of parts business because of this".

Next day, I was underground with an INCO General Foreman for a general tour of Crean Hill Mine. We visited several machine sites to get feedback from the operators. My notebook was quite full by the end of the tour. One question I asked each operator, "What's the INCO number of this machine?" They all knew their INCO machine numbers. "How about the CMS Serial Number?" Not many knew the machines had one. It took some scrubbing but I was able to find the CMS Serial Numbers. With 120 pieces of equipment, it took me several underground visits a week for several months to get to each machine to properly identify them. We made a cross reference list in the customer service department and eventually, the customer service department's general knowledge of which machine was where led to increased parts patronage, a fare number of machine rebuilds for the shop, and a welcoming number of new machine orders.

This wasn't all of the good things that were implemented to help improve the relationship but it was the start of several good initiatives including the implementation of an ISO 9001 quality program of which I became a very interested auditor (let's not make the same mistake twice). I was told by an INCO VP that the approval rating of CMS went from a 2 out of 10, to a 7.5 out of 10 in three short years. I was thanked for "owning" the problems and working out solutions. My father, retired at the time, got word of the effort and said well done.

There is no doubt that Continuous Mining Systems had terrific Customer Engagement with INCO -- we didn't have much of a choice, we were owned by them! But it took conscientious ownership of the customer's needs to turn the relationship around. The best vendor reps know this very well.

Next Blog: The Benefits of Scorecarding Your Product and Services Deliveries

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