Steel company tries to give its customers what they want


December 10, 1990|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Special to The Sun

When IVACO Steel Mills Ltd. makes a mistake on a customer order, its error can have a ripple effect, upsetting the carefully planned production schedules of several industries. Joan Meredith Faust's job is to help make sure IVACO Steel Mills rarely errs.

"We're human; we do make mistakes," she says. "If we make a mistake, the first thing we always do is apologize. The second thing we do is try to make it right."

Ms. Faust is a sales administrator for IVACO Steel Mills' marketing, sales and service arm in Hunt Valley. The unit sells steel products manufactured by IVACO Rolling Mills in Canada to customers in automotive, fastener, construction and other industries. These industries use IVACO Rolling Mills' materials to make tires, concrete, wire rope and a host of other products.

"When we ship material, our customers are scheduling their deliveries to their customers based on our performance," Ms. Faust says. "Our customers use what's called a just-in-time delivery program. They keep no inventory. They count on us to deliver exactly what they need."

"If we screw up, they can't deliver on time and their credibility is lost."

To keep order and delivery problems to an absolute minimum, IVACO Steel Mills gives every customer a status report about their order every week.

"We get updates on orders from our production department every Tuesday that tell us if orders are being produced on time," Ms. Faust says. "We get this information to customers by fax so they can see the status of their order as soon as we get it."

Information about orders is the best customer service tool the company has, says Ms. Faust. If a problem begins to develop, it is easy to see.

"We learned a long time ago it's better if we tell customers as soon as possible if something will be late. They may not be happy about it, but they do feel better," knowing that IVACO Steel Mills knows about it, she says. "We've been fortunate with our customers. They don't shut you off with one mistake."

IVACO Steel Mills handles unhappy customers with a simple strategy.

"If we enter an order incorrectly and the customer receives the wrong material, we pick it up . . . and replace it as soon as we can, all at our cost," Ms. Faust says.

The company does not offer customers monetary compensation for errors. Most customers just want the right product, right away. But quickly replacing steel products manufactured to individual customer specifications is not always easy, nor is it cheap.

"It's not like going to the store and buying Coke if you can't find Pepsi," says Ms. Faust.

"The old adage about the customer always being right is not always true," she says. Customers make mistakes too. But, she adds, they are always the customer. And what the customer says, goes.

Catering to customers is essential to IVACO Steel Mills' success, Ms. Faust says.

"The biggest thing is getting them the right material. They just want what they order, not much more or less than that. If you give the customer what he needs on time, give him quality and service, he's happy."

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