Focusing on customers, quality, and speed

Steel employees know best when it comes to what and where we have room to improve. Our new initiatives in the fields of quality management, sales, and innovation make that perfectly clear. One thing we’ve learned: Success is a great motivator.

Rudolf Schönenberg Head of Quality Management, thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG

Out of the comfort zone: Quality managers work to develop a zero-error culture

“Wherever people are working, mistakes will be made. That much is certain. In spite of that, our goal is to anchor the idea of a ‘zero-error culture’ here at Steel. ­Ultimately, the fewer mistakes we make, the better we can satisfy our customers – and that is better for business. We know that expecting everything to run like clockwork starting tomorrow is a utopian vision, but we still need to pursue that goal. My department, which was created this past February, has 260 employees working hard to do just that.

“So what do we need in order to get the job done? First off, we need every team member on board. Everyone needs to be asking themselves whether the job they are doing and the way they are doing it is the fastest, most effective way to accomplish the task at hand. In addition, we need to standardize processes, reduce complexity, and simplify things overall. Basically, we need to focus all of our attention on things that will help us to move forward, and ignore everything else. On top of that, we need to make sure that our processes are transparent.

That’s the only way that we can see where things are going wrong, and figure out what we need to do to correct them. “This all serves as the basis for a continuous improvement process. That means never simply settling for what we have achieved, and thereby allowing ourselves to stand still. It means staying innovative and constantly striving to develop ourselves. In addition, we want our business to exemplify our focus on the customer, both internally and externally.

We want to spend less time on ourselves, and more time concentrating on fulfilling customer needs. At the end of the day, it’s customer satisfaction that keeps us all in our jobs. We are working very hard on all these fronts and we have ambitious goals: We want to reduce downtime costs, ­improve output, and minimize complaints. I am certain that we will see visible results within the next one to two years.”

Rudolf Schönenberg,
Head of Quality Management, thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG

Hans Ferkel Head of Technology and Innovation, thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG

Bringing products to customers faster: Time to Market

“Innovation is expensive. It starts with the developer, because massive ­development costs can accrue gradually over time. The sooner an innovation can reach the market, the better – that is the only way companies can begin to earn money and invest that money in the next innovation. With our Time to Market ­initiative, Business Areas can dramatically speed up the innovation process for their products.

Before implementing this initiative, the process might take five years or more, depending on the individual case. That is the norm for materials development. However, in the ­automotive industry, for example, the time it takes to develop new models of the same car has been drastically reduced, and we need to follow this trend closely, as it may open up additional opportunities on the market.

“How do we get faster? In this ­complex process, we need to identify ideas in which we see real potential. That means that we examine these ideas very closely to ensure that they are feasible and would truly stand to help our customers.

Ideas for innovations can come from all over – from trend studies, discussions with customers, our development department, and even employees. Once we have selected an idea, it is assessed by an ­interdisciplinary team with ­representatives from Sales and ­Production/Planning to determine whether it is feasible in both economic and practical terms.

If the idea gets the go-ahead, we begin the pre-­development process. If this is successful, we develop the product for mass ­production and finally introduce it onto the market. So what do we do differently today than we did in the past?

“On the one hand, we have expanded and intensified the early phases of the development process. This has allowed us to avoid errors, avoid ‘stalling,’ and shorten the process by up to one-third. That not only saves on time – which allows us to respond more quickly to changes in the market or customer needs – but saves money, too.

On the other hand, we get our customers involved at an earlier stage in the process. With certain automotive customers, for example, that allows us to integrate our products into new vehicles quickly and with a high level of precision. All in all, we are off to a very good start with our Time to Market initiative.”

Hans Ferkel,
Head of Technology and Innovation, thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG

Peter Biele Head of Core Team Sales Academy, Managing Director thyssenkrupp Electrical Steel GmbH

Well-trained sales staff: Sales Academy increases its focus on the customer

“The demand is there. The 650 employees in various sales departments require detailed knowledge and additional skills to sell our products in such a competitive market – and they need to be able to ensure customer satisfaction on top of it. To that, add the fact that we as sales staff want to feel equipped with the right skills for the job at hand. That was the goal behind the new Sales Academy of the Steel Business Area.

Since May, employees have been making the most of this new training initiative. We spoke with employees about the new program and learned that they are highly motivated and enthusiastic at this opportunity to sharpen their knowledge. They love the fact that the lecturers are true specialists who provide practical information on relevant topics. The units and lessons are well curated. In addition, participants are encouraged to talk about the program’s shortcomings and to network with one another.

“Twenty events have already taken place as part of the basic module. Over 500 employees participated in training sessions focused on complaint management, customer service, and channel and pricing management. Our second series of modules is already well underway. As part of this program, over 300 participants are learning in-depth information about innovation management, negotiation, market and customer strategy, order processing, purchasing law, and anti-dumping. After only six months, we have already received over 1,600 registrations.

That kind of response speaks for itself, and shows that the Sales Academy is on track to become a fixture in the company, keeping the sales team trained and ready for any day-to-day business situation. It is a massive step toward our goal of increasing our focus on the customer and improving our service.”

Peter Biele,
Head of Core Team Sales Academy, Managing Director thyssenkrupp Electrical Steel GmbH