Filling Customer Needs When Needs Are Changing So Quickly

By: Nathan Wicka

 

One vital component of growth that every business has at their fingertips are customers. Understanding customer needs is mission-essential for any business that plans on achieving long lasting success. The burning question is, how can businesses support their customer needs, when their needs are ever transforming and changing?

As most all business, domestic and international has been affected during the Covid-19 pandemic, let’s look at Exact Medical Manufacturing (EMM) as an example.

As EMM is a made to order medical manufacturer of high-performance medical disposables, we witnessed firsthand many of our customer’s needs transform and change due to the pandemic. Upon the majority of the US going into lock down, this resulted in a rippling effect that posed many new challenges and needs for EMM’s customers.

Elective surgeries were among the first things health and policy experts postponed to make room for the insurgence of COVID-19 cases. This resulted in a shift in many of our customer’s needs, as the demand for PPE supplies became priority number one.

In addition, timing for the dramatic increase in demand for PPE products could not have come at a more inopportune time. As the majority of PPE products are manufactured in China, the country was already dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic roughly 3 months before the first case hit the US.

Furthermore, this problem was compounded not only by China’s own need for PPE products to fight the spread of the virus, but with this all taking place during China’s Lunar New Year Holiday. During which all manufacturing and businesses in the country shut down for several weeks with many workers traveling long distances home to spend the holiday with family.

Understanding this pandemic has provided never before seen uncontrollable factors creating a perfect storm, EMM has stayed determined to perform to the best of our abilities.

Starting with clear communication and full transparency. Amidst the initial start of Covid-19 outbreak, our customers expressed to us that the majority of their overseas suppliers had gone radio silent. Also, due to the pandemic, China’s holiday country shutdown was significantly extended out.

With customers voicing their concern and uncertainty on supply chains, EMM’s President David Power began a series of short written updates titled: “Corona Virus Status Communications.” You can reference all 8 separate communications in the news section of EMM’s website or at this link. https://exactmm.com/exact-news/.  These communications helped explain how China was dealing with the virus as well as specifically on EMM’s current status and new protocols implemented for reopening and resuming operations. Furthermore, they helped communicate and foreshadowed for our customers the potential logistical issues effected by pandemic. These communications directly resulted in many of our customers adapting and proactively initiating PO’s to meet future forecasting needs.

As mentioned earlier, with most elective procedures halted, many of our customers with open customized draping projects, needed to reevaluate previously set time frames for implementation. Others needed to acclimate to new working environments. With social distancing and travel restrictions in place. EMM adapted with our customer’s needs. Face to face meetings, became video, Webex, & Zoom meetings. With several project contacts scattered all over the country and working remotely, our customers needed EMM to be flexible, many times making ourselves available during off hours and late evenings.

In addition, with the demand for gown products at an all-time high, the EMM sales team received daily calls from new potential customers asking and looking for any available product they could get their hands on. Many offerings to pay upwards anywhere between 5-10 times standard pricing or even a fee to bump them to the front of the production schedule.

It would have been easy for EMM to take advantage of these types of opportunities, especially coming at a time where we ourselves were experiencing extreme cost increases taken place with our raw material supply chain. EMM upper management recognizes that the pandemic price gouging will eventually level out.  Rather than contributing to the problem we declined these types of offers and initially did our best to ride out the storm by absorbing all raw material cost increases.

When it came to a point where we could no longer absorb material increases, we executed a short term stop gap plan with all our existing customers to help shoulder the burden. We held to our core principals with our customers in partnership. Resisting the short-term gratification for a more long-term sustainable business. That means allocating and keeping open capacity for EMM’s existing customers so as they grow their business we can meet their production needs.

Not just for gown products only. We understand that as elective surgeries resume many of our customers priorities for product will shift back as they were before the pandemic and EMM will need to be ready.

“When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal; you do not change your decision to get there. (Zig Ziglar)” EMM will continue to strive and support our customers/partners changing needs to the best of our abilities. “Always remember that your present situation is not your final destination. The best is yet to come. (Zig Ziglar).”