Metal Center News
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November 2011
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E-commerce is E-ssential
A steel mill's website is no longer just online window dressing. It could mean the difference between a service center surfing past or stopping to place an order.
 
By John Jacobson, Jacobson & Associates 

To view this article with tables: Click here.

Jacobson & Associates conducts a continuous census survey of steel mill customers, asking them to rate each mill on key attributes including quality, service, price, on-time delivery and overall satisfaction. Steel buyers report a wide variation in their satisfaction with steel mills’ websites. Indeed, the functionality and ease of use of a mill’s site can influence a service center’s buying decisions.

In its latest survey, Jacobson & Associates gathered comments from numerous steel buyers with strong opinions about online customer service. Following are a few examples:

n “Mill websites need to be intuitive, clear and easily
accessible.”

n “I would like online access to real time inventory, pricing and order status with faster processing speed.”

n “Mill websites are very important for access to order status and the ability to download documents, such as invoices, packing lists and mill test reports.”

n “I need online access to material ready for shipment, rolling capabilities and lead times.”

n “I appreciate being able to find price sheets without having to wait for a salesman to get back to me.”

n “One supplier’s new site is very slow. It takes six to eight clicks to get one line of info through a drop-down menu. Before, I was able to quickly get a PDF file with all types of product info and have it in front of me all day.”

n “Mills need to improve on providing accurate information and accessible documents.”

n “Websites are where mills need the most improvement.”

Leadership characteristics

As seen in Chart 1, mills rated highest in overall customer satisfaction in their respective product categories were: North Star BlueScope, SSAB North American, CMC Steel Texas, Nucor Berkeley Beams, Allegheny Ludlum, Nucor Nebraska and Nucor Connecticut.

While each segment of the steel industry has its own set of competitive dynamics, customer satisfaction leaders display some common characteristics. When describing the leaders, mill customers often pointed to their dependability, quality, reliability, helpfulness, service orientation and product availability. Universally, customers want to buy from “good people who are easy to do business with.” Following are some specific customer comments about each of the industry segment leaders:

Steel Sheet Leader—North Star BlueScope:

n “North Star BlueScope is our major supplier due to quality, delivery, price—everything. NSB is the best of the best.”

n “On-time delivery performance and reliability are strengths for North Star BlueScope, while product development is a key weakness.”

n “North Star BlueScope’s on-time delivery is great, with good gauge control on coils, and they have good tech support.”

n “North Star BlueScope is aggressive, especially with their technology.”

Plate Leader—SSAB North American:

n “SSAB is very solid and customer-oriented.”

n “SSAB is consistent; very few surprises there.”

n “SSAB has high quality, but their ordering parameters are more difficult than other mills.”

n “SSAB’s strength is their great product and the willingness of their people to be helpful. Weakness is all the rules and restrictions.”

n “SSAB is open to new ways of processing steel for us.”

Bar/Structurals Leader—CMC Steel Texas:

n “CMC Texas is aggressive. Their strengths are customer service and availability. We have a good rapport with their inside and outside salespeople, and their prices are
competitive.”

n “CMC is our major supplier based on their overall performance: deliveries, availability, sales reps and flexibility of rollings.”

n “CMC has good, honest people. They go out of their way to help us.”

Beams Leader—Nucor Berkeley Beams:

n “Nucor Berkeley Beams has great service and people. They are easy to deal with, have on-time shipments and competitive pricing.”

n “Nucor Berkeley is dependable. Their strength is material availability, while information on their website is their weakness.”

n “Nucor Berkeley is quick to ship; they have good floor stock.”

n “Nucor Berkeley is helpful, with good follow-up.”

Stainless Sheet Leader—Allegheny Ludlum:

n “Allegheny is our major supplier. They are the most competitive and willing to enter into partnerships.”

n “Allegheny Ludlum is easy to do business with. They have made great improvement through lean manufacturing, but could be a little more organized on the shipping side.”

n “Allegheny has a good website; I am able to see the status of my order, and the information is accurate.”

n “Allegheny is our major supplier due to their ingenuity on new and unique grades. Allegheny is a quality, high-class mill.”

n “Allegheny has high-integrity people.”

SBQ Leader—Nucor Nebraska:

n “Nucor Norfolk is reliable; they are the market leader.”

n “Nucor Norfolk’s strength is offering most sizes.”

n “Nucor is aggressive, with good people, and yet they price sensibly.”

n “Nucor Nebraska is a major supplier due to quality and consistent deliveries.”

Rod Leader—Nucor Connecticut:

n “Nucor Connecticut has excellent quality and good customer service.”

n “I like the people at Nucor Connecticut.”

n “Nucor is dependable. It is very rare that they miss something.”

The traits that make for a good leader seem simple, yet making them part of the corporate culture is a challenge that separates one competitor from another. n

Methodology

Jacobson & Associates conducts a continuous census survey of more than 2,000 major steel customers in the United States and Canada, including service centers and end-users. The Jacobson Survey stands as an objective third-party measure of steel customers’ satisfaction with their mill suppliers. Customers use a 10-point scale to indicate their level of satisfaction with supplier quality, delivery, price, service, inside sales, outside sales and overall performance. Jacobson produces separate reports on sheet producers, plate producers, minimill producers, stainless sheet producers, bar producers and beam producers. This article is based on survey data for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2011.

  
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