Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Get Dirty - Understand The Customer Firsthand

Good Career Moves - 2

So when I joined Air Products & Chemicals I was in the corporate affairs group. We were in the main building on the Allentown campus. It was a big company, thousands of employees and more clients and industries than I can even list. All these years later I’m still very proud of my time at Air Products and remember it with great joy (as I've told friends, if we hadn't moved I think I would still be at Air Products).

Within the first weeks of working I started thinking how the corporate staff was a bit removed from the operation and line businesses. We produced a ton of materials and support but I didn’t feel like we were really getting to meet the clients and understand how they looked at us, our products, etc. So I went to my boss, a great guy that was very smart and asked, “can I go to one of the field offices for a bit and see how they deliver product, interact with the customers?” I remember getting a head tilted response of “why?” After a few more times asking he finally gave in to get me off the requesting treadmill.

I spent a week delivering cylinder gases, and then bulk tanker gases. I went into 100 clients locations, went to the fill sites, the return sites. The great guys at the sites even taught me how to roll a 400 lbs. cylinder of gas. The best moments were just watching how the field delivery people interacted with the clients. From welding shops to hospitals, from plastic jug manufacturing plants to auto body shops. It was an amazing time. I really felt like I knew the markets and the value Air Products provided. It was so obvious that the gas was a part of the value – that it had to be quality, clean, etc. but the real difference was in the people. The knowledge they shared and the commitment to customer satisfaction was amazing.

Months later as we were looking at redoing all the materials for the wielding group as I was sitting in the brainstorm session I remembers something that was subtle but could mean something to the brand. When I was out with the delivery guys every time they would go into the shops to say hi to the owners or buyers they would bring the latest sales materials. As they would hand these beautiful brochures and flyers, the shop owners would almost be embarrassed. Their hands would be dirty and about 80% of all the Air Products stuff was printed on bright white paper. They would ask that we “put it on the desk, they were afraid to get it dirty…” So I shared this in the brainstorm session. The group was intrigued. This simple insight lead to us making the materials fit the industry and the client environments. We went in wielding from bright white to browns and darker colors, plus we added a protective coating to the materials allowing them to be wiped clean.

A long time later I received a hand written note from one of the field guys, stapled to one of the new, industry and environment correct designs and materials saying “thank you Dave, we no longer make the clients feel bad when touching our stuff…” Boy that put a smile on my face. In addition I was recognized as a creative person, willing to go the extra mile to make the difference. This gave me a strong reputation in the business units and opened up many doors and growth opportunities.

So I always encourage people on my teams, especially the newer members – to get out, meet clients, go on sales calls, walk and sit were your clients do. You will learn things that no one else will and bring value in simple and quite ways.  

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