Jeffrey Moss of Ascential Technologies On How to Build Lasting Customer Relationships
An Interview with Rachel Kline
Next comes predictability. Customers need to know they can count on you to deliver each day and every day. For one of my very demanding customers, I made it my job to know when I created a problem for him at one of his sites before he knew, and more importantly having a plan in place to correct the problem before he needed to ask. It took a while, but when we began to be predictable allowing him to focus on more important things, our business grew.
Building lasting customer relationships has many benefits, including increased revenue, positive word-of-mouth recommendations, and saving on acquisition costs. But how does one do this? In this interview series, we are talking to Product Managers, founders, and authors who can share their “Five Tips For Building Lasting Customer Relationships”. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jeffrey Moss, CEO of Ascential Technologies.
Jeff describes himself as an engineer by training, but as an entrepreneur in his soul. His career has now spanned five decades and includes leading technology-oriented companies across multiple industries including aerospace, robotics, automotive, lasers, telecommunications, material handling, and now medical and life sciences. Jeff has maintained a lifelong philosophy of “winning with people” and lives by the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated.
Thank you for doing this with us! Before we begin, our readers would like to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this career path?
I spent most of my early career serving the automotive, aerospace, and telecommunications industries. The common threads that connect more than 30 years of leadership include engineering-intensive businesses, robotics, lasers, automation, and project management.
I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I have led several growth-oriented companies, and my current role as CEO of Ascential Technologies is a great example. The core of our business was established more than seven decades ago. We help customers with complex, mission-critical projects, products, and services, often related to the safety and well-being of society. I lead my team with a deeply held belief in fundamentals like customer dedication, continuous improvement, persistence, and the idea, which I borrowed from a book by former Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, that ultimately, You Win with People.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson, or take away, you took from that story?
One of my favorite memories starts when I was teenager growing up in a small town that was home to a conveyor manufacturer. The plant manager lived down the street from me. One day when he was walking home from work, I asked him for a job. That summer I started my first real job pressing bearings into rollers used in conveyors. By the time I graduated from college, I had moved up to the drafting department where I had the opportunity to apply my engineering skills. Upon graduation, they offered me a full-time job, but I was done with conveyors. I was ready to be a jet engine engineer. I took my first job in GE’s Aircraft Engine Business. Fast forward twenty-five years (with a few stops in between), and I found myself back in the conveyor business working for Dematic, the global leader in automated material handling solutions. I suppose there are a few lessons I took away from this experience:
1. Never be afraid to ask for something (i.e., my first job).
2. The hands-on experience of working in the factory shaped my perspective in many ways (hard work pays).
3. And finally, life can come full circle. An industry that I had written off early in my career provided an opportunity for me to continue to grow and learn from new experiences particularly as software and data started to drive solutions.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Ascential Technologies is a new identity for the business, unveiled in September, and brings together a diverse portfolio of companies under a unified brand. We design, develop, and automate complex diagnostics, inspection and test processes across the medical & life science, transportation, and industrial markets. Our solutions tackle the toughest, most daunting challenges — where failure is simply not an option — and we improve performance and unlock new opportunities for companies all over the world.
Our customers are passionate and aspirational companies that are working on truly groundbreaking advancements to make people safer and transform the way they live. We partner with our customers at every step of their journey, helping to fuel their innovations, drive scale, and accelerate the development of their products and solutions, getting to the market faster. In doing so, our capabilities in science and technology become essential to their competitive advantage in the marketplace and help to mitigate the risk of failure. In turn, these companies can innovate with full confidence and trust, knowing that their solutions will be both market-ready and proven safe.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us a bit about your experience with building lasting customer relationships? Can you share an anecdote or two that illustrates your experience in this area?
I started in a customer facing role early in my career when I worked for a robotics company serving the automotive industry. I’ve been in customer facing roles ever since. The automotive industry was a great place to learn. It was very competitive, and the pace of play was very fast. There was simply no room for error. My employer at that time hired a consultant and launched a training program called “It’s My Job,” meaning it’s everyone’s job in the company to take care of customers. Every single person in the company has a role in building customer success. I’ve tried to build this mentality into every department and into every company I’ve led. When everyone in your company is pulling for the customer, solving problems, and delivering results, this is the basis for building long-lasting customer relationships.
In today’s fast-paced and constantly evolving landscape, what strategies do you employ to maintain a strong connection with your customers and anticipate their changing needs?
Ascential Technologies is the trusted partner for complex, mission-critical projects, products, and services, often related to the safety and well-being of society. We are committed to elevating innovation in key markets by contributing speed, integration, and accountability into every development phase. This dedication to excellence is why our industry leading customers entrust us to transform concepts into market-approved, clinically outstanding, and thriving products.
Our company is structured into three main divisions, based on industry sector and core competencies:
The first is Burke Porter, an Ascential Technologies company, our transportation division with a long history of innovation serving the automotive industry since 1953. As the innovator and clear leader in end-of-line testing and laboratory dynos with thousands of installations globally, this division now extends its automotive expertise to cover On-board Diagnostic (OBD) consultation and verification; production precision machining; lifecycle testing services; propulsion module assembly, balance, and test automation; and aftermarket products including ADAS calibration services. As a leader in the industry, we challenge ourselves to continuously monitor industry trends such as electrification and autonomous navigation to understand the regulations and bring innovative solutions that support our customers.
The second, Ascential Medical & Life Sciences, offers customers a comprehensive range of products and services including instruments and consumables; factory automation; and medical devices. Operating as one division, Ascential Medical & Life Sciences accelerates lifesaving innovation from ideation through design, manufacturing, automation, commercialization, and support. These include genomics and personalized medicine, or new tools and instruments for high-volume consumable testing and diagnostics.
Finally, Ascential Technologies Industrial brands serve companies in HVAC, white goods, heavy equipment, and energy markets. These businesses serve clients under the separate brand names Cimat, Titan, Galileo, Lismar, and Kleinknecht, allowing us to tailor our solutions and services to meet customer needs.
Can you discuss the strategies that companies can employ to strike a balance between driving revenue and profitability, and focusing on building customer relationships and loyalty?
It goes without saying, our customers are the reason we exist. Our customers expect that we bring value in terms of price, quality, and delivery. We must deliver on those three fundamentals every day. If we want to grow our business, we must bring more. That includes solving their most difficult technical challenges, working with integrity, and a focus on innovation. Simply stated, innovation to a customer means improving cost, quality, and delivery.
The journey to fostering loyalty and trust really begins with your people and the company’s culture. As I mentioned earlier, I learned years ago of Woody Hayes’ motto that you win with people, and I’ve adopted that in my own approach to leadership.
We want to deliver solutions that our customers cannot function without, and value that is unmatched. We are guided by our vision of being our customers’ most valued and trusted business partner. Ascential Technologies employees work hard to create personalized service and experiences for our customer organizations, investing time to understand each customer’s needs, what is required to do their jobs well, and accomplish their business goals.
Could you describe the metrics and measures you use to evaluate the success of your customer relationship-building efforts, and how you identify areas for improvement?
I guess the buzzword here is Net Promoter Score (NPS). I’ve attempted the NPS approach in businesses like ours. It’s nice for presentations, but I found it being less actionable than I would like. We may do NPS in the future, especially for businesses with higher transaction frequency. For now, we keep it simple and direct. We seek as many face-to-face customer meetings as possible. We want to understand where we may not be meeting the mark. How can we improve? How can we be more efficient? For our larger customers, this comes through an agreed upon set of metrics measuring price, quality, delivery, and any nuance important to them. Together we monitor the data and develop actions to improve areas that are performing below expectations. The best metric of all is “are we growing our relationship with each customer, or not?”
Regarding customer-facing teams, what steps do you take to ensure they can deliver personalized, proactive, and efficient support, tailored to the needs of each individual customer?
I like to keep it simple. I’ll start my response with one fundamental premise. Our customers are companies made up of employees. Our employees interface with their employees. Therefore, at the fundamental level, it’s a people business. People want to be treated fairly and with respect. Above all, at Ascential Technologies we need to conduct ourselves in a manner that’s consistent with treating others as we would want to be treated. Everything else flows from here.
Next, we need to be curious. We need to be inquisitive. We need to seek to understand the facts. We want to use proven tools and processes to analyze the facts. And, together with our customers, we need to have a bias for action when solving problems.
If we are committed to treating others fairly, assuming good intent, analyzing facts through agreed common processes and tools, and have a bias for action, I believe this answers your question.
What tips do you have for responding to negative feedback from customers, and what steps can be taken to turn those experiences into positive outcomes?
First and foremost, we are here to serve our customers and ensure their satisfaction. We are partnered with industry-leading companies on groundbreaking advancements in science and technology, and they are relying on our solutions to ensure market-readiness and safety — when failure is simply not an option.
When the stakes are this high, you must get it right. However, we are all human and there may be times when something in our approach falls short. The best way to address an issue is to respond in a timely manner and acknowledge what happened. Your customers will appreciate the engagement and know that you regard them as a priority, and value their business. They will also welcome your efforts to understand and further investigate their experience.
If it is learned that mistakes were made, be honest and offer steps to remedy the situation. When you offer a personal opportunity to listen, show your customers empathy, that you take the matter seriously and are genuinely working to fix it, positive outcomes become more likely.
Lastly, how do you use technology or AI to enhance your customer relationships, and what tools have you found to be most effective in building and maintaining them?
We are in the process of launching a new technology stack including Salesforce and Marketo. Both tools incorporate AI that can help us better understand our customers and their needs. Additionally, we are leaning in on deepening our use of software and breakthrough technologies such as AI to help our customers accelerate their go-to-market and develop stronger competitive differentiation.
In your experience, what are five key components of building lasting customer relationships?
1. It starts with satisfying the basic requirements in the buy-sell hierarchy (price, quality, delivery). I see us making mistakes from time to time thinking we can bypass this fundamental step. This only creates confusion for the customer… “why are you asking to expand your business with me when you can’t fulfill my basic requirements?”
2. Next comes predictability. Customers need to know they can count on you to deliver each day and every day. For one of my very demanding customers, I made it my job to know when I created a problem for him at one of his sites before he knew, and more importantly having a plan in place to correct the problem before he needed to ask. It took a while, but when we began to be predictable allowing him to focus on more important things, our business grew.
3. Innovations or a willingness to take on more responsibility for your customers to improve cost, quality, and delivery can qualify you to move up in their buy-sell hierarchy. One of the opportunities that excited me when I came to Ascential Technologies was the possibility to provide truly end-to-end services for our customers by integrating our businesses into industry-focused divisions. In our Medical and Life Sciences Division that means we can co-develop a medical device with our customer, build prototypes, support the regulatory process, design, and build the automation that makes it scalable and affordable, and then manufacture the device in our own clean rooms. As a result, we can minimize handovers that occur with less integrated suppliers, take time out of the development cycle, and accelerate our customers’ ability to scale their products globally.
4. A willingness to participate in not only win-win, but sometimes lose-lose demonstrates your commitment to being a true partner. It’s not always easy to get to win-win, but at least everyone is motivated to do it. A true partner sometimes must support lose-lose. I’ve seen this multiple times over my career. In one case, my customer was a large food & beverage client in the process of transforming its supply chain. We were under contract to provide an automated material handling solution. Both companies struggled financially with the first implementation. Our customer saw we weren’t going to walk away, and we were sharing in the pain. As a result, we stuck together. We re-engineered the next project based upon lessons learned, and the results propelled them in to building many more sites with us.
5. And finally, creating a regularly scheduled dialog (i.e., QBR) ensures that you don’t let problems fester and allows time to focus on continuous improvement. The very best QBRs weren’t easy, but we dealt with facts and data. The customer gave us a scorecard, and we gave them a scorecard. We were both committed to continuous improvement and building upon a longstanding relationship.
How do you ensure that these ideas are implemented throughout the customer journey?
First things first, it’s about setting expectations in terms of how we interact with customers. That comes through training, interactions, project reviews, operating reviews, etc. And we expect our leaders to “walk the talk.”
We are nearly done. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My aspirational thought is for people to focus on other people’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. Find and leverage their strengths. As a leader, I have weaknesses. I’d like to think I know what they are. I attempt to build my team with leaders that can cover my weaknesses. In other words, my weaknesses are their strengths. My challenge is for you to do the same. If we all do this, imagine how much more productive and positive our workplaces can be.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please visit us on the web at https://www.ascentialtech.com, or LinkedIn
Thank you for the interview. We wish you continued success!