“As a company, we had lived off a wonderful reputation for bespoke work. What we needed to do was to make sure ours was the name which immediately came to mind for more standard requirements.”
Paul Bunter is managing director at Wire Fittings - he was previously their production director - and has a wry smile when he explains what happened next.
“Increased competition means there is a temptation to grab whatever is going, rather than stepping back and considering its value.
As a result, we found ourselves in the spiral of reducing prices and margin. We weren’t cutting quality, so we weren’t making money.”
A lead manufacturer of display stands and racks for cards and gifts, established some fifty-five years ago, Wire Fittings didn’t pull back on their investment in 3D design software and CNC machinery on the shopfloor either. And finding the money to add a woodworking capability meant that the company put themselves in a better position to win more higher end work.
What digital communication enables a company to achieve, says Bunter, is an instant impact.
“But,” he point out, “it has to know what it is doing for that impact to happen and for it to be positive. Digital communication gives a company the chance to recover more quickly, but maintaining it is a continuous process, and that means resource has to be made available.
“There’s a need to be proactive to be at the front of the customer’s mind.
That could be a little Facebook piece about some cheap Christmas decorations we made from reclaimed materials. There is an imperative to tell people what you are up to. The key is the quality of content, which is not a given. Otherwise recipients will just detour you into trash or delete what you are sending them as soon as they see your name.
“A company which is innovative and design led has to get that message across in the right way - it’s not a given because competitors will be shouting very loudly and the internet means they can claim anything.
A company should be confident in its product and how it conducts itself, and its website needs to reflect that.
“If a company has market leadership credentials, digital communication should allow it to stand out from the crowd.
And I think that has to include being prepared to have third-party comment on your website. Because the customer does much more research than before, because with the internet they can, the challenge for the premium product provider is to demonstrate why, if a price comparison is being made, it should be on a like-for-like basis in terms of quality and customer satisfaction.”
According to Bunter, one of the biggest impacts of digital communication is customer feedback, initially through email and now with review sites.
“We use email to simply ask if our product arrived as it should have,” he says. “That will give you immediate feedback for improving customer service.”
Significantly. “For example,” Bunter continues, “someone said that one of our metal tables wasn’t as steady as it should be. We then realised that it wasn’t our product, but the customer’s floor which was the problem. Now when we dispatch that kind of product, we include a little pack of rubber wobble stoppers.”
The current product split is 35% stock or standard items, with bespoke representing the majority 65%. Some 17% of what Wire Fittings produce is exported and Bunter intends to make products more export friendly, redesigning for flat packed for example. And that’s where digital communication can be deployed as a powerful tool to improve the likelihood of customer satisfaction.
“Using video on our website or on a link to YouTube, we can use to demonstrate how our flatpack products can be assembled,” he explains.
But again, the proverbial key is quality of content. “After we make a video, we grab someone from administration and ask them to put up the product just by watching what is on screen,” he says. “What the internet should be about is effective engagement.”
What causes annoyance is when it isn’t always clear from its website what a company is actually providing, Bunter suggests. “That could be because the company is looking from the inside-out rather than starting from the customer’s perspective. So their website is built on assumptions. As a customer I just haven’t got the time to work it out, so I move on.
“Because the customer does much more research than before, because with the internet they can, the challenge for the premium product provider is to demonstrate why, if a price comparison is being made, then it should be on a like-for-like basis in terms of quality.”
“If there’s a given, it’s that the Internet has certainly increased delivery expectations. It used to be five to seven days, and nobody had an issue with that,” muses Bunter. “Now we’re talking about three to five days.
Because the internet is easily accessible, there is a sense that so too is the product you source through it.”