Don’t Get Impersonal

At what point will the use of e-mails, self-service resources and other forms of technology affect the way we do business with one another?

These days, it’s easier than ever to avoid interacting with other people. Need to contact someone? Send them an e-mail. Need to fuel up your car? Use your credit card and pay at the pump. Need groceries or home improvement items? Go through the self-checkout line and scan the items yourself. Need to order more raw materials for your plant? Find a website where you can order everything online at the lowest possible prices.

But wait—how is all of this impersonal interaction going to affect us over the long term? At the most basic level, we are all social beings. (Well, most of us are anyway.) Certainly, there are days when you’d rather not try to force conversation with the convenience store clerk, and you’d rather not deal with a pushy salesperson who is trying to get you to buy a new material that your plant doesn’t need. But if we permanently shut down those lines of personal communication, we’re likely to miss out on a number of benefits.

For instance, what if the “pushy” salesperson really does have your plant’s best interests at heart? What if the new material could save your company money or increase product quality with a minimum amount of hassle? And what if, by talking to the salesperson about your plant’s needs, you could establish a solid partnership that could improve both your business and your supplier’s, and that could lead to more successful collaborations in the future?

The alternative also bears considering. What if you decided to avoid the salesperson and source your materials through a website that promises rock-bottom prices? In the short term, your company could save thousands of dollars, making it an attractive option in today’s difficult economy. But will your company be able to afford high product losses if the material quality doesn’t meet your plant’s specifications? And where do you turn for help if the product doesn’t perform as promised? Will the person on the other end of the website be willing or able to assist you through hours and possibly even days of technical troubleshooting? And what if you miss out on special pricing because you are simply looking at standard pricing on a website?

According to ceramic industry consultant Carl Frahme, solid relationships between suppliers and manufacturers—especially when it comes to sourcing raw materials—are key to a successful business strategy. The ongoing mergers and acquisitions in the materials industry can make it difficult to establish and maintain those relationships. Additionally, it can be tempting to focus solely on the bottom line and source your raw materials from the cheapest supplier. But making an effort to establish a personal relationship with your supplier can pay dividends in product quality and customer service. (For more information about building relationships with raw material suppliers, see the article "Successful Strategies for a Changing Market.")

Electronic technology has streamlined many areas of our personal and professional lives. But that technology is best used to enhance our personal relationships—not replace them.

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