Andel and Handling: Maybe Service is Rocket Science

April 9, 2012
The relationship among manufacturers, service providers and customers can be destroyed by the simplest detail. Remembering that problem can turn it into a solution.

If price were no object, your material handling equipment would never break down, you could afford the best logistics talent to meet customer demand and space ships would be a realistic transportation alternative.

Unfortunately, price will always be an object.

Fortunately, achieving the best material handling and logistics service level money can buy requires something far simpler and more old fashioned than rocket science. It’s called partnership.

A successful logistics partnership requires mutual understanding and clear communication among all parties—including third parties, equipment distributors, equipment manufacturers and transportation providers. That’s not warm and fuzzy talk, it’s cold hard business—the kind of terms that are spelled out in a contract. Service is only as good as the contract it’s described in.

The problem with human nature is we tend to focus too much on the complicated and screw up the simple. So where things often go wrong in supply chain relationships is on paper. Not doing the necessary homework before approaching a 3PL about a piece of business is a common problem. A shipper must accurately reflect expectations in a contract if the relationship is going to work. As Shanton Wilcox, principal of Capgemini Consulting’s Supply Chain Management business told me for this month’s piece on 3PLs, it’s a matter of clarifying what information is available within your organization, understanding what you’re willing to invest in and then netting out what is needed for the service provider to support your operations.

The same understanding is required when dealing with material handling equipment service providers. They’re dealing with the same business pressures you are. The cost simply to add a new employee is moving higher, factoring in health insurance costs and the cost of technical training.

That said, you have the right to expect the highest service levels from your dealers. They recognize that over and above being the channel for an OEM’s products, they’re responsible for maximizing your investment’s return. Without that commitment, who needs them?

Well, the OEMs do, of course, but even they have to work on the service channel they manage with their dealers. As you’ll read in Ron Giuntini’s piece on service parts, when an OEM’s parts sourcing practices clash with the dealer’s ability to control costs and serve customers, there are opportunities for all three parties to engineer a win-win-win.

As I said, none of this is rocket science. But even rocket science goes wrong for the simplest reasons. The Apollo 13 mission was almost doomed by a few saturated CO2 scrubbers. Somebody missed the fact that the lunar module wasn’t designed for three astronauts, and this overwhelmed the air circulation system—and could have killed the astronauts. Teamwork between those astronauts and their service providers in Houston led to the makeshift adjustments that solved the problem and saved their lives. Bring that lesson in rocket science down to earth and put it to work. It could save your livelihood.

Follow me on Twitter @TomAndel.

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