Do You Truly Know Your Customers?

Think about this principle: It is the buyer who establishes the price of goods and services sold, not the seller.

Here is another: A seller should never propose a product or service he or she personally favors but a product or service the prospective customer wants and favors.

An Example Customer

About one year ago, a service contractor called on me to evaluate an industrial customer’s needs, write a scope of work, and help select a suitable control system contractor.

The industrial project is a natural gas liquefaction plant with three variable-speed compressors driven by three very large variable-frequency drives (VFD).

The Problem

When constructed, the electrical equipment building housing the three VFD was delivered with a control system that represented a single point of failure, one programmable controller, one temperature sensor, three airside economizer dampers, three individual packaged air conditioning units.

Apparently, as you may expect, the control system worked reasonably well until the programmable controller failed. When that controller failed, the production of liquified natural gas (LNG) was interrupted.

The air conditioning service company quickly installed simple one-stage thermostats on each air conditioning unit to restore production.

Perhaps the most important difference between a commercial customer and an industrial customer is their respective financial priorities. The commercial customer wants to get back in operation as soon as possible at the lowest possible cost. But, the industrial customer wants uninterrupted production.

Generally, industrial customers will have dual instruments on all key points and often dual control systems to avoid loss of production. Naturally, the industrial customer is more interested in uninterrupted operation than a cheap control system solution.

My Prescription

I specified stand-alone, open-system Honeywell controllers, one for each air conditioning system with individual space temperature and outdoor air temperature sensors and independent control of the airside economizers.

The local Honeywell vendor recommended a knowledgeable contractor whose contact information was provided to the service contractor.

The Outcome

Unknown to me, the control system subcontractor treated the project as he would a typical commercial customer by offering a low-cost, single controller, a single outside air temperature sensor, and a single zone temperature sensor.

The service contractor accepted the low-cost, single-point-of-failure system proposed by the subcontractor.

Why would anyone pay a consultant to write a specification and not communicate with the consultant before disregarding the consultant’s counsel?

Did the cheap control system work? Yes. But, what happens when there is another single-point-of-failure? How will the customer evaluate the service contractor?

The service contractor asked me to withdraw my invoice for consultation because he did not follow my counsel. No, I did not ignore the hours I expended for my on-site investigation and developing a solution for an industrial customer.

Would I serve as a consultant to that service company again? Yes, I would. He paid his debt and that is what matters to me.

Know your customer. Understand his priorities. How do you get to know the customer and his or her priorities? ASK QUESTIONS.

John N. White
Rockwall, Texas

Published by John White

A lifetime (over 50 years) of experiences with automation and control systems ranging from aerospace navigation, radar, and ordinance delivery systems to the world's first robotic drilling machine for the oil patch, to process-control systems, energy management systems and general problem-solving. At present, my focus is on self-funding HVAC retrofit projects and indoor air quality with a view to preventing infections from airborne pathogens.

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