3 real-world examples of companies winning more business by improving customer collaboration
July 12, 2023
No engineering team wants to make customer collaboration worse.
But “improving customer collaboration” is one of those phrases that means everything and nothing at the same time.
Of course we should want to improve customer collaboration. Not because it sounds good, but because it’s good for business. How well you communicate and collaborate with your customers is the biggest factor that determines the strength of your relationship.
In other words, when customers have a top-notch experience collaborating with you, you end up:
- winning more business
- protecting long-term contracts
- nurturing valuable partnerships, and
- establishing a reputation as a premium (not low cost!) provider
But what does better collaboration with customers actually look like in practice?
To answer that question, we looked at success stories from some of our own customers here at CoLab. This article rounds up three real examples of engineering teams that have changed the way they communicate with customers about design — and how those changes have impacted the business.
Hyundai Mobis lands major OEM contract by showcasing technical expertise
Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) was evaluating supplier bids for a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract.
As a leading Tier 1 supplier for the last several decades, Hyundai Mobis knew they had the experience and know-how to deliver exactly what FCA needed.
But the Mobis team also knew something else.
They needed a better way to collaborate with FCA during the bidding process.
“We didn’t really have a good way to look at the 3D model files that FCA was sending, in order to quote,” explains Hak Park, Engineering Manager.
Mobis engineers typically needed to rely on FTP servers for secure file downloading, and PowerPoint decks for communicating design intent. Because these collaboration processes were manual and disjointed, they limited how quickly the team could respond to FCA.
On top of that, the flurry of emails and screenshots was resulting in a poor experience on the customer’s side. Instead of all the relevant information being in one place, clearly laid out — design conversations were scattered across multiple email chains and attachments. That made it harder for customers to piece things together and get a clear picture of the value Mobis could bring to the table.
Before they found CoLab, the Mobis team looked into other ways to solve their collaboration roadblocks.
“Because the process was so slow, before CoLab I had also looked into free CAD viewers available online. So we tried that, but we didn't have any real control,” Park says. “We couldn’t do the reviews and issue creation that we can do in CoLab.”
So Hyundai Mobis started using CoLab to easily share and review 3D models, both internally and with customers.
By using CoLab to overcome collaboration challenges, the Mobis team created a frictionless experience for their customer — while also having more time to focus on highlighting their substantial technical expertise as the best team for the job.
“The issues and reviews we created on our files were key for our tech review when we were bidding for the program.”
“It’s very hard to send stuff, with our security. But CoLab has helped with that a lot,” comments Park. “FCA really liked being able to see the model on screen and being able to move it around. I think that was very helpful.”
“The issues and reviews we created on our files were key for our technical review when we were bidding for the program,” Park emphasizes. Ultimately, CoLab allows Hyundai Mobis to share and discuss designs with FCA in a way that’s both highly effective and highly impactful.
As Park puts it: “New business awarded, that’s very big.”
Ford Pro shrinks lead times by 30% with streamlined multi-stakeholder collaboration
Ford Pro works closely with over 200 converter partners to deliver top-of-the-line commercial fleet vehicles.
One of those converters is MS-RT, a design-led automotive engineering company that modifies Ford vehicles to create bold, bespoke high-performance upfits. Typically that includes sourcing specialized parts from third-party vendors and working with Ford Pro to integrate them into the vehicle design.
Between Ford, MS-RT, and suppliers — keeping all stakeholders on the same page is no small feat.
James Kerr, Design and Engineering Director at MS-RT, explains the challenge: “When it comes to sharing data, in regard to being able to transfer files and accurate files between the three different parties — it’s really important for us to be able to make sure we’re all working on the same piece of CAD, so that there’s no ambiguity when it comes to what we’re discussing.”
As the design evolves during a project, it’s essential that everyone has confidence they’re working from the most up-to-date CAD files. Plus, as Ford Pro continuously improves the core vehicle design, those changes need to be communicated to converters quickly and effectively.
Before CoLab, requests and questions from converters were handled manually.
“We’d have to do a meeting or screenshots, take local measurements of anything they are looking for,” recalls Andrew Walden, Ford Pro Special Vehicles Senior Project Engineer. “It can be very difficult to answer questions quickly.”
Now, cross-organization collaboration is much simpler. CoLab brings together all the relevant files and feedback into one central, easily accessible location. That means all stakeholders can be “in the loop” throughout the design process with converters — including Ford Pro engineers, overseas manufacturing teams, and even subject matter experts across the Ford network.
“It’s a massive increase in speed. Any time of the day, across time zones, they can access CoLab.”
As Walden puts it: “It feels integrated, like one unit working together, as opposed to separate hubs who are out of the picture.”
The improved collaboration is having an immediate and substantial impact. Projects completed using CoLab are finished 30% faster, resulting in shorter lead times.
“Now the converters can see the vehicle sooner, so they can get Ford products into the market quicker and help us be more competitive as a company,” Walden says. “It’s a massive increase in speed. Any time of the day, across time zones, they can access CoLab and have their reviews. CoLab mirrors Ford Pro’s mantra for our customers of ‘Always On’ by keeping the design teams continually moving forward.”
Global heavy equipment company wows customer with “seamless” experience
An industry-leading heavy equipment manufacturer recently expanded to a new location.
Within a key business unit, the company had existing original equipment (OE) design teams in the US and UK. To meet growing business demands, a third engineering team was created in Asia-Pacific.
That’s three engineering teams, in three countries and time zones, all collaborating remotely on the same design projects. Given the company’s complex and specialized product line, clear communication is mission critical — as is effective asynchronous collaboration.
The principal engineer responsible for setting up the new office looked into tools that might help, such as BIM360. But none of them could match everything CoLab offered.
By bringing design conversations into CoLab — where they’re attached to the full 3D mechanical context and automatically organized — it became much easier to track down information when needed. Instead of trying to trace a decision history that’s buried in emails and PowerPoints, engineers could just pull up the discussion on the design file in CoLab.
Not only did this vastly improve the team’s internal collaboration, it also enhanced customer collaboration.
Because the team works on massive, complex heavy equipment OE design, projects tend to be large-scale with significant customization needed.
That means there’s a very high need for extensive collaboration with customers, over a substantial period of time. From quoting, all the way through to delivering the final product.
Using CoLab has made it easier to keep feedback organized and log customer input immediately, which in turn prevents any miscommunications or delays in response time.
Since CoLab allows teams to create custom tags, engineers now have a way to instantly capture and tag customer requests — while also linking the feedback directly to the relevant 3D model or design file. And once it’s tagged, it’s easily tracked and managed so that nothing slips through the cracks.
When a mandatory review process was coming up with a valuable customer, the team knew it would be a big effort. But with the added help of CoLab to keep track of everything, the customer was noticeably impressed. They reached out once the process was complete to thank the team for making the sign-off a “seamless” experience.
So not only was the team able to work more effectively thanks to CoLab, they also strengthened their relationship with a core customer in the process.
Ultimately, there are many levers you can pull to improve customer collaboration.
The trick is finding the highest-impact improvements, then implementing them in the most strategic possible way. Look at your current processes for communicating with customers. Where are the weak spots? Where do things frequently get off track?
When you start investigating, you’re bound to spot recurring issues or gaps where things consistently fall through the cracks.
Once you know where those issues and gaps are, then you can form a plan to tackle them.
Because in today’s world, staying tightly aligned with your customers is one of the biggest advantages you can get.