Good news for engineers: the old crafts return!

Martin van Doeswijk

In the dairy store of my parents, in the 1970s in Amsterdam, you could get slices of cheese or a whole chunk. You could also buy just one single egg. And who recalls the shopkeeper asking ‘Can it be an ounce more?' That was never a problem. The quality and freshness of the products and personal contact compensated for it. And by the way, we loved to eat that extra ounce, didn’t we?

Customer care did not stop with this. If someone came by after closing time, he was always helped. While my mother was taking care of the store, my father did his daily rounds. He had keys to many homes to deliver the dairy beyond the doorstep. It surprises me when I think of this type of customer care which is what I appreciate now when I buy things on the internet. We have lost this in times of globalization and mass production, but it's coming back. And it will also benefit the engineering sector!

"Customer value is like a tailored suit, each stitch is made with you in mind" (Better Call Saul Season 2, Netflix in 2016). If customer value stands for actions that actually result in service value to the end user, or in the case of products - a finished commodity, then the above quote is a good illustration of customer value. Yet, the rise of the supermarket chains left no room for the dairy store of my parents.

Customer value in my work

What about customer value in my own work as a soil and groundwater engineer for, for example, the reconstruction of a factory? Soil and groundwater investigation is not really a sexy subject, it is seen as a necessary evil by most of our clients. The secret is to really know what the customer wants. The Kano model (Noriaki Kano) helps me with this.

A soil and groundwater survey always complies with the laws and regulations (must-be quality of the Kano model); the customer will not appreciate this as an extra, he is simply expecting this. Through smart research and measurement strategies we get the assignment (performance attributes). But the real added value (wow factor) is a research strategy that takes into account future developments of which the customer had not yet thought of (unknown need). This may even mean that first a more intensive (and sometimes more expensive) research is executed, leading to a reconstruction of the factory that is cheaper, more sustainable and implemented without delays.

Making the added value clear in the early stages is not so easy. However, since the current situation is known (baseline), we can measure the performance from the start and adjust along the way if needed (Kaizen). Meanwhile, we accumulate a lot of knowledge and gain new experiences every day. Resulting in an increasing ability to predict our added value, no matter how complex the field of soil and groundwater research is.

Revaluation of the crafts and engineering services

With the rise of the barbers, barista’s, vinyl record stores, organic vegetable picking gardens and various specialty shops, a careful return of the craft services is happening for customers that appreciate personal contact and quality of goods and services. And I'm actually very happy with that. I do not expect the dairy store to return to our streets. But with customer value as a baseline condition, the revaluation of crafts, and with it our engineering services, is unmistakable.

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