Liberalisation of Indian economy in the nineties decade has many firsts to its credit. Opening up of more than the 125 year old Indian Refractory Industry is one of them. Greater productivity, energy conservation, pollution control and environment friendly refractories suddenly became buzzwords of refractory industry too which, till the previous day was stagnating without proper investment and worn-out technologies.
Since, the number of member countries joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) has also enlarged, the global scenario has changed from protective and monopolistic industrial output to comparative and quality oriented products. Under such circumstances, the trading community and consumers have the opportunity to dictate their terms to the domestic manufacturers in terms of price and quality of the products. Under the new circumstances the refractory manufacturing units also need to improve the quality and produce at globally competitive price as also to understand ISO: 9000 Quality Assurance System. This does not mean to a mere ‘certification’ of ISO system, rather its implementation in real sense is what is required, if a company thinks of creating a niche in the industry.
Like other industries, for refractory industry also the post-liberalisation era brought along with it one more important aspect, which is the need to realize the concept of Customer Delight and, of course, how to deliver the same. First let us understand what the concept of ‘Customer Delight’ is. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, mere satisfaction does not ensure loyalty. To take potential defectors by surprise, you have to move beyond customer expectations - by anticipating her needs and then surpassing them with constantly superior products or service. That is delighting the customer. In a highly-competitive market, where switching costs are low, it makes sense to target the loyalist - the delighted customer - who will keep coming.
How does customer delight transcend customer satisfaction? The product is essentially created by a bundle of benefits that comprises the core - the key elements in a product or service; the ring of expectation - what customer expect; and the ring of enhancement - what companies add to a product or service to surpass customer expectations. As both the core and support elements, the sources of customer satisfaction, become indistinguishable with the diffusion of technology and the replication of efficient systems across organizations, the differentiation moves to the third zone. That’s what creates the zone of difference for companies competing for customer’s mind space and the wallet.
In a nut shell ‘Customer Delight’ means -
- the fulfillment of latent needs that the customer is yet not aware of
- a quality of service that she considers is not possible from marketers
- complete personalization of standardized product or service
- solutions to problems offered by a company’s personnel at personal initiative
There are many more things like - creating customer delight, measuring delight then preparing to deliver delight. Such an approach to amaze both the customer and the competitors sows the seeds of innovation and corporate imagination. Here innovation in the field of refractories could stem from new Refractory Lining Technology or a new Refractory Product or a similar Service. Or it could be the emergence of a new technology through the convergence of technologies, as is happening in the InfoTech industry, or the miniaturization of technology. Now it is apparent that innovation can not happen without giving thrust to Research and Development activities. Since Refractory industry is no exception so, R & D is a core area where refractory entrepreneurs need to pay a lot of genuine attention. The R & D activities must be targeted not only on improving the quality of materials but also on production of cost effective materials for various applications. The main focus should be on:
- optimum utilization of indigenous raw materials
- up-gradation of refractory technologies
- development of equipment for better refractory application, repairing and lining of furnaces
- quality control and energy conservation measures
- development of new refractory products
- automation and computerization
DELIGHT today is EXPECTATION tomorrow. And EXPECTATION today is basic need tomorrow. To squeeze delight out of this relentless downward spiral, only a high-quality mechanism for listening to the customer and responding instantaneously with genuine attitude will suffice. But many entrepreneurs (I mean those Indian refractory entrepreneurs, who have at least realized the value of Customer Delight) still forget that customer delight does not end at the front office of a company; it begins here. And last but not the least, most companies talk about customer satisfaction, not about employee satisfaction. They must remember that - only happy employees make happy customers.