Less than a decade ago customer service at the Portsmouth-based operations division of Alenia Marconi Systems left almost everything to be desired. Customers who sent their equipment for repair at the company's Broad Oak manufacturing site claimed, only half-jokingly, that it would probably be obsolete by the time they got it back. Employees were disgruntled and customers despairing.
The transformation of Broad Oak into a world-class manufacturing, support and spares facility for a wide range of complex defence systems, with a reputation for excellent service was unexpected. Broad Oak's turnaround stems from a decision taken over five years ago to refocus the organisation on its customers. Explains operations director Frank Howe: 'We focus on customer requirements, product quality and costs. If these three aspects of the business are right, the business results follow.'
Howe's philosophy is shared by the other finalist in this cate-gory, John Pring & Son, a manufacturer of specialist wire products based in Sandbach, Cheshire. In 1996, Pring's new managing director Kevin Croker also shifted the firm's focus onto its customers. Both businesses have achieved their current success following an overhaul of management style, organisational structure and company culture. In both firms, employees are now team-based, flexible and multi-skilled.
Until the mid-1990s employees at Broad Oak were viewed essentially as a cost, and the management style was autocratic. Staff turnover had reached 12% a year. The organisation's decision to apply for Investors in People accreditation in 1996 marked the start of a new approach to employee relations.
Broad Oak adopted a 17-point employee charter outlining what staff can expect from the organisation and what the organisation expects of its employees. Following a series of initiatives introduced in early 1997 - including an employee suggestion scheme - employee satisfaction is at an all-time high and staff turnover is down to 6%.
Better communication between employer and employees is a feature of Broad Oak's new, more open culture. All managers are now trained in coaching and communication skills and each month a team brief is given to all staff.
Twice a year Howe holds a 'State of the Nation' event for the workforce which addresses key issues such as people development, business excellence and, recently, the organisational changes resulting from last year's merger of GEC and Finmeccanica which created Alenia Marconi Systems.
Broad Oak's major customers include British Aerospace and the Ministry of Defence. To meet their high expectations, the Broad Oak facility is now organised in customer-focused 'business cells'. Each cell provides dedicated programme management and a manufacturing service for all product ranges including missile systems and systems for air traffic management. Broad Oak also offers a customer support and spares service which maintains 'after sales' support over the full life cycle of its products.
The cornerstone of Broad Oak's customer-focused strategy is a seven-point customer charter which includes the promise to only make commitments that can be met on time. As a result of the initiatives adopted since 1995, Broad Oak is confident that it can live up to these promises. Over the past four years manufacturing lead time has fallen from 26 weeks to six weeks and productivity has improved from 60% to 79%. Most importantly, 99.8% of customers' products now arrive on time.
For justification of a customer-focused business strategy, ask Howe, who says Broad Oak can now provide it in spades. 'I can point you to our improved schedule adherence, reduced lead times, cost reductions, improved people satisfaction, increased customer recognition and improved business results.' Broad Oak's new reputation is one well worth having.
- Publicise key performance indicators widely
- Survey employee opinion to test morale
- Work in partnership with suppliers
- Ensure staff are multi-skilled to meet unusual demand
- Train staff in complaint-handling procedures.