Every company speaks of the need to adopt a "customer-centric" approach. Here's how Kimberly-Clark, a U.S. multinational consumer products company, achieves that elusive goal — according to chief supply chain officer Sandra MacQuillan.
Q: Every company talks about being customer-centric. At Kimberly-Clark, how do you make that a real thing?
MacQuillan: You start with, what does the customer think? You won't learn everything, because of course they're not going to give you everything. But being able to interpret what they mean, and spend more time with them, is hugely important.
The other thing that you have to focus on around making sure that every element of your supply-chain understands its role in delivering customer satisfaction. If you're in procurement, you can sometimes feel disconnected from the customer at the shelf. It's all very well to save money in procurement, but if the raw material or product you're buying isn't able to run on your machine, you may have saved some money in procurement, but you’re costing more in the manufacturing organization. And you haven’t got a product that logistics can deliver to the consumer. So you try and find metrics. You focus on what the customer really needs.
Q: Who is your actual customer in your mind — the ultimate purchaser, or the big-box retailer that buys huge amounts of your product to sell?
MacQuillan: It depends on what you're selling, and the route to market. It can be a big retailer. But as you move more into the omnichannel and e-commerce, it can be the person sitting at the computer ordering on Amazon or Jet.com.
Q: What shifts in mindset have you had to undergo within the organization to reach the goal of customer centricity?
MacQuillan: The first transformation is understanding what a supply chain is. When I started in my role about three and a half years ago, we didn't have a supply-chain organization in Kimberly-Clark. I spent a lot of time in the first year explaining and describing what a supply chain is. That it’s procurement, manufacturing, logistics, quality, safety and sustainability connected and working together. That was a big shift, particularly, when you look at the history of Kimberly-Clark as being very manufacturing-focused. It’s about achieving a balance between each function, rather than viewing one as more important than the other. Showing manufacturing its role in service to the shelf is very important. That's the kind of transformation we've had to go through.
Q: Do you still find yourself having to explain what a chief supply chain officer does?
MacQuillan: Not in Kimberly-Clark. But as an industry, we still don't have one definition of what supply chain is. Companies will define it differently. How we all define it is something we need to invest in.
Q: How good a job are you doing in bringing everyone along on this journey? What remains to be done? What additional challenges do you see for the future?
MacQuillan: The last three years have been a phenomenal success in achieving 25 to 30 percent in cost savings. That where you need to start to get credibility. But you also need to up your game on service. With regard to quality and core metrics, we’ve seen massive progress, and I'm very proud of what the supply chain in Kimberly-Clark has done. What we haven’t done yet is bring out the huge value that the interdependencies across an integrated supply chain can bring. We're now in that phase of our journey, where we're looking at the connection points between suppliers and procurement. That's going to take more time.
Q: How to you manage to get a broad view of your supply chain, both upstream to suppliers and downstream to customers?
MacQuillan: You have to have people in place who are highly competent in what they do, and are also very committed to the vision of creating value from source to shelf, whether that shelf is virtual or physical. We’ve shifted to talking about it in a business-unit language rather than a supply-chain language. At the same time, we have created key areas that we want to work on, and we've remained resolute in focusing on those. We really believe in what we're doing. We’re giving stability and credibility to the 30,000 people who live in supply chain.
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