Surviving the New Economy

Special handling, packaging and the fees to pay for them are analyzed in a new survey.

Surviving the New Economy

A recent quickie survey by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) shows some interesting results — if you read between the numbers. In response to the first question — Do you accommodate customer requests for shipments using non-standard shipping methods? — 91 percent of the 174 respondents (about 36 percent of the total PMMI membership) said yes. So what’s with the other nine percent? Don’t they want to stay in business? Haven’t they heard of customer relationship management?

The second part of that question — Do you charge a special handling fee for these requests? — indicates that 42 percent of the companies said yes and have found a new way to generate a few bucks. The other 58 percent said no and probably write it off to customer service.

One of the trends, or observations, we’ve seen develop over the past year is the importance of customer service, or relationship management. It’s not really a new concept and, I suppose, should not really be thought of as a trend. In fact, taking care of the customer has most likely been the underpinning of successful transport packaging companies since Marco Polo and his supply chain traveled the Silk Road. It’s just that other buzz phrases like enterprise resource planning, lean manufacturing or ISO-whatever captured the spotlight and magazine pages for a while. But business has always been, and will always be, about customer service.

In any business it’s easier to hang on to the customer you’ve already acquired than it is to land new ones. This is not press-stopping news. What seems to be different about the current stampede for better customer relations is the breadth of company management involvement.

There is a growing awareness (some might say blinding flash of the obvious) that neither products, packaging nor sales are created in a vacuum. Working together, various departments can solve company-wide profitability issues. The adage that nothing happens until something is sold might not ring true in 2002. There seems to be plenty happening to prepare for and facilitate the sale. Certainly it’s the salesperson who closes the deal (and gets the commission check), but it’s now more apparent than ever that everyone in the company has a part in making the sale.

What can you do? It seems that everyone is a member of the team these days and everyone’s role is equally important. As the member of the team positioned nearest the final step of the process, closest to the customer, your role is more equal than some of the other team members.

Here’s what I’ve learned speaking with several packaging engineers. The new-world economy has changed how packaging jobs are being done, but not the importance of the job. For instance, it used to be that you could factor in some measure of safe shipping when you shipped in unit loads because containers supported and protected each other. Now, with single-unit shipments on the rise, that margin of safety is gone.

What to do? Now, as a member of the marketing team, your suggestions regarding how to reduce product damage carry more weight. A starting place to assure the product gets through unscathed is for packaging engineers to work with product designers to build the protection into the product.

I took a quick look at the job postings for packaging managers and engineers on the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IoPP) Web site (iopp.net) and confirmed a lot of what I’ve been hearing. Job recruiters are looking for people with skills they don’t teach in school. Employers are looking for people who can manage and work with others. Candidates are required to work with the customer from package concept to inception.

To survive in this new world, we’re all going to have to learn how to do more with more, not more with less. We’ll need more training, more information and more creativity.

Clyde E. Witt, executive editor, [email protected]

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