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As never before: the customer will be king.

If anyone would have tried to describe to us 20 years ago the international complexion of today's industry-be it machine tools, steel, or automotive-in the United States, we would have considered them daft. And who would have believed anyone predicting a year ago that Eastern Europe would turn its back on communism, embrace democracy, and almost over night become a formidable market and competitive factor; that not only would the Berlin Wall collapse but that the two Germanies would unite; or that Gorbachev would be the recipient of a peace prize and winning popularity contests in the us.

What the next year, or the next decade, will bring is anybody's guess. But the odds are good there will be more change than we expect. For sure the industrial world will become even more internationalized, products will become even more individualized, and technology will become even more important. And all this will be happening at an even faster clip.

Driving all this change has been the customer. That is something that US manufacturers have not always understood, opening the door for foreign manufacturers to move in and fill the gap. Where the US manufacturer generally worked on the theory that "if it isn't broken, don't fix it", the Japanese are driven by the conviction that 'things can always be changed to make them better." Where the US management mentality was to work toward and wait for the breakthrough, the Japanese strove for gradual improvement. As was found by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology study of American competitiveness, US firms put two-thirds of their effort into developing new products and one-third into improving manufacturing processes. The Japanese did just the opposite.

The watchword for success as we enter the 21st century is customer satisfaction, which means even more emphasis on producing quality products and providing service. More than ever before, the customer will be king if for no other reason than because there will be more competitors out there vying for his business by anticipating and filling his every whim.

John Hendrick, president of Okuma America, iterates what many have been. saying: "The key to success in the last decade of the 20th century and the fast-approaching 21st century business community is, and will continue to be, customer commitment-whether you sell cars, appliances, hamburgers, or machine tools." Lloyd Reuss, president of General Motors, echos the sentiment: "We do whatever will ultimately result in the best quality and value-the highest overall satisfaction-for the buyer of our products." Perhaps the ultimate in customer commitment is the Japanese bicycle manufacturer using flexible manufacturing systems to offer 23 million versions and 100 color combinations to custom-fit each customer.

Achieving that level of customer commitment goes beyond producing physical quality or building-in process quality. It's creating a quality ambience; the realization that quality is not something you control or direct; it is the result of doing everything else right.

Stanley J Modic

Editor in Chief
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Modic, Stanley J.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:editorial
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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