Customer Process Inquiry Forms Work
Collecting information about your customer for presales, sales or technical support can sometimes be difficult and confusing. In a technical industry, such as semiconductor fab, the success of an account rides on the account manager's ability to gather and communicate customer information to the technical service personnel, and to quickly and accurately communicate the results of a technical investigation back to the customer. Often, the customer can't immediately answer a technical question and must relay questions to others, causing delays and lost information.
To help alleviate these issues, I created an interactive Microsoft Excel document called the customer process inquiry (CPI) form that is e-mailed to the customer. Because we're intimately familiar with the various processes used within our industry, this interactive form addresses the majority of process steps and parameters relevant to our product and its interaction with the process. In most cases, questions are answered via drop-down menus, providing customer information in a consistent fashion.
The CPI form has four parts. The first part is the instruction sheet, which explains the intent of the form, the expected time it will take to complete and what the clickable buttons do.
The second part asks for general contact information about the customer: company name, address, contact name, phone, fax, e-mail, typical times the customer is available, priority of the issue for the customer and project completion date. It also asks general questions about the customer's process and has a place for a description of the current process issue and related information.
The third part is where we collect critical information about the customer's process. The customer first chooses the specific process type from a drop-down box. This section of the form is broken down into several smaller sections that focus on specific areas of the customer's process. The number of sections varies by process type and complexity. The process-specific questions contain many drop-down lists to decrease the time required by the customer to complete the form. This doesn't eliminate the customer's ability to input information that isn't contained within the values of the drop-down lists. The instruction sheet explains how to input information when a drop-down list isn't sufficient. This new information can be used to periodically update the CPI form to keep it current with the needs of the customers.
During use, the CPI form has embedded macros that automatically populate input cells based on the information provided by the customer. Again, this feature is intended to aid the customer in completing the form in the shortest amount of time possible while obtaining the best information.
The key point in designing such a form is to ask the process questions most relevant to your product and then provide the most common selections in a drop-down menu or auto-fill using macros.
At the bottom of the process-specific section is a diagram that represents the customer's process type and allows the customer to change it to better represent the specific process and materials. Next to the diagram is an "Additional information" box. This allows the customer to add an additional sheet to the CPI form, into which the user can add information not captured by the form, such as process-flow diagrams, equipment recipes, electronic images of the issue, etc.
The last part is an area for technical support review and recommendations for the account manager. This section helps the account manager ensure that the customer's technical issue has been reviewed and the necessary information is returned to provide the needed customer support.
The CPI form provides several benefits to the organization. The use of drop-down lists allows the marketing group to systematically and consistently gather information from customers to analyze data and determine new market areas for existing or new products. The CPI form can also be incorporated into a customer-relationship management system, which is searchable by everyone in the organization. This feature allows the account manager and technical personnel to search for existing information to help resolve a current customer issue.
The CPI form's primary purpose is to gather process information from the customer in a systematic and consistent manner. This allows the account manager to more effectively communicate with the customer and technical personnel when resolving a customer issue.
Earnest Murphy is an account manager for the chemicals business group of Brewer Science Inc., located in Rolla, Missouri. He has been with the company for more than 13 years and has held various positions, including research-and-development engineer, pilot plant engineer and applications engineer. He is currently the account manager for the ARC group within the chemicals division.
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