YKK Stories

2017-08-07 Issue 9 Fundamental Behavior 8 – Make Customers A Priority

February 19, 2019
Author: YKK
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In several of these behaviors, we are being asked to broaden our concept of certain terms. For example, we have learned that safety is everyone’s responsibility, quality cannot be achieved without everyone’s involvement, and we all are leaders. In this week’s topic, we learn that we have both internal and external customers.

It’s obvious who our external customers are. They are the wonderful companies that have chosen to put our YKK and YKK AP products in their products or their buildings. Without them, we simply don’t have jobs.

Internal customers might be a new concept for some of us, but it’s an easy concept to understand. For example, in a manufacturing setting, a customer might be the next department in the manufacturing process. They depend upon us to supply an expected quantity of high-quality product by a certain time. We have clarified their expectations of us (last week’s Fundamental Behavior #7) and we try our best to live up to our responsibilities and our commitments. Internal customers are a priority, too, just like our external customers are.

Internally or externally, communication of accurate information is so important, especially when there are problems that disrupt the normal product flow and cause us to be unable to deliver as promised. Customers always prefer good news, of course, but if the news is not good, customers want and need accurate information (even if it’s negative), and they need it as soon as possible. We don’t tell a customer her/his order is on schedule — hoping we can miraculously make it happen — if there is a greater likelihood the order will be late. The customer has a business to run, too, and needs to plan. That planning requires accurate information from us. The customer’s trust in us depends on the accuracy of the information we provide.

We can never lose sight of our customers’ needs or how much we depend upon them. They are our raison d’être or the “reason for the season,” so we have to be good partners with them and ensure that we keep them fully informed. And we need to treat them with the respect they deserve. When I was in the Navy, I heard a story that I think touches this subject. A young sailor aboard ship was ill and went to the onboard doctor, who was very senior in rank to the young sailor. The doctor had a very disrespectful, condescending attitude towards the ailing junior sailor. After taking as much abuse as he could, the young sailor said to the doctor, “Commander, sir, I’d like to remind you, respectfully, that the only reason you are here is to keep me healthy so I can do my job.” I’m sure that message was a good wake-up call for the doctor. In that instance, the sailor was the customer, and the doctor obviously had not read Fundamental Behavior #8!

Every day we need to remember that the only reason we have a job is to serve our customers, both internal and external. In every way, we should show our sincere appreciation, treat them with respect no matter how unreasonable their requests/demands might be, and try to understand their frustrations from their perspective, not ours.

We all have been abused by a clerk in a store at some point during our lives. A few years ago, I took my car to the shop, walked up to the clerk and politely said, “Good morning!” He looked at me and said, “What do you need?” Instantly annoyed, I responded, “What I need is for you to respond to my ‘good morning.'” I said more, but what I said is not important. The next day I received a call from someone in the corporate office who apologized and said, “He’s just like that sometimes.” I thanked them for valuing my business enough to call me to apologize on his behalf, but I suggested that they might need to weigh their brand value/image with their customers against whatever skills that rude individual provided.

Our desired corporate culture is one in which everyone in YKK and YKK AP makes our customers a priority. Let’s look at ourselves and our colleagues with a critical eye and have a healthy discussion about making our customers a priority. How can we do a better job?


Alex Gregory
Chairman and CEO
YKK Corporation of America