Our pandemic story is another chapter in our story about a
decades-long dedication to quality and service.
Almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives has changed in the wake of COVID-19. How we work, interact with friends, shop for groceries, and educate our kids constantly evolves. For those of us lucky enough to be working, communicating with colleagues and people with whom we do business is also different.
For PCB manufacturers, conversations usually begin with a quote. The quotes themselves have not changed, but how customers request them from us certainly has. The process is less formal. We spend more time on “How are you?” before “What trace width do you recommend?”
Our customers now seem more inclined to reach out to us in ways that invite more interaction. They want a sense of assurance from us — a human response rather than an automated reply — making people skills suddenly much more important. Routine calls are no longer limited to PCB design and prototyping, we also share our experiences and connect with customers.
Recent experience tells us the coronavirus pandemic is transforming how the PCB industry does business. This is the story of how we responded and adapted. Who we have always been as a team made it possible.
For that first week to ten days, circumstances were changing every couple of hours. Everything was a distraction, and no one knew when the next shoe would drop — making it the most challenging situation our leadership team had ever faced. By far.
We were helped by a straightforward list of priorities:
First, we got the teams in sync — assigning immediate response tasks and establishing workflows to accommodate a dispersed workforce. We brought customers into the loop at the same time by updating our website and sending out regular email notifications to keep them updated on how changes will impact them.
For those working from home, across all departments, we already had the technology and process in place. The organization has always been prepared to shift work off site in the event of an emergency, so the big challenge was helping people acclimate to a different work environment. Would PCB and customer support quality be impacted by our Support Team not being able to walk down to the production floor to look at a board?
We take care of our employees so we can take care of our customers.
Not everyone who needs boards needs them during a pandemic, but the ones who do need them really need them. A lot of our active customers are building products vital to dealing with the pandemic, so an automated reply or a confirmation number isn’t enough right now.
“We are here. We can help. Talk to us.”
Chances are that the person making the order is at home. We are taking orders from our homes. We may spend a bit more time talking about the new abnormal, but when conversation does turn to the PCB itself, we let our customers know we understand they have enough headaches right now and we will not be one of them.
“You can count on us."
The interaction between our service and production teams is the secret quality sauce in our manufacturing process. When we started working remotely, there really was some uncertainty about not being able to visit the floor to inspect a board with a potential issue or peek around the cube wall to ask a question about a customer design.
It turns out we’re an innovative bunch. If production managers want someone on the team to look at a board now, they just snap a pic and send it to them. We also leverage text, instant messaging, and FaceTime to bring remote and on-site staff together.
These on-the-fly process adjustments keep the production moving and the quality assured.
We have always taken customer data security seriously and that is reflected in our proactive approach to cybersecurity.
The necessary virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure was in already place to allow remote workers to securely connect to the network. Scaling the remote workforce from a handful of employees to everyone in the office went smoothly. Every employee not directly involved in board production works from home now.
We were already adhering to National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity guidelines and follow Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) requirements as we implement compliance to these standards. In addition to third party penetration testing and monitoring of our systems, we began reinforcing previous training on how to avoid phishing emails and other cyber scams.
Skills-based training for staff is key to do their part in maintaining data security. Anyone who can log into the domain or back-end system are invited to do the training. We give participants quizzes on the material and even distribute false phishing messages to see if people fall for it. That may sound like a segment of Impractical Jokers, but employees appreciate it, especially now that they are using the knowledge to protect their home networks as well.
Do you have a sensitive PCB project waylaid by COVID-19? Let’s talk about it.
Keeping our production crew safe on the floor has always been our top priority. COVID-19 required we make some enhancements.
Safety guidelines from state and federal agencies are always evolving and often conflict, so we continuously err on the side of enhancing safety, even if it complicates production. We routinely update guidelines and procedures to enhance protection of the production team and minimize disruption. It was not just top-down; Sunstone has always been proud of their employee-run wellness committee. They provided key input.
Protective measures include adapting our production workflows to accommodate distancing guidelines and having key staff observe production to ensure six feet of distance between each person. We also conduct regular employee interviews to determine likelihood of third-party exposure. We request anyone even suspected of having contact with the virus to self-quarantine. Those showing signs of illness, even allergies, are asked to go home on paid leave. We even closed the lunchroom and gym.
We prioritized employees from the start of this challenge. We communicate and train on new protocols for both remote and on-site staff quickly and effectively.
As always, we are working to keep everyone at Sunstone healthy and able to take care of their families.
COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on business. Now, demonstrating the ability to dependably deliver quality — as well as a hands-on customer experience — has created new relationships that we hope will endure after the pandemic is just a memory.
Our ability to forge and sustain relationships is founded on the bonds with our suppliers. We need them as bad as our customers need us, making this situation an opportunity to strengthen our relationships with them. Since we value Made in the USA, our distributors are domestic, mostly Californian, and all certified essential. Because of tariffs, they had plans to limit the amount of mainland Chinese material for some time and we were able to fortify already healthy stockpiles as the pandemic loomed.
How we receive orders has changed and the assurance created by human interaction seems to have reversed a longstanding trend away from conversation. Historically, two thirds of our orders were made online, but that has been flipped on its head. At first, we thought it was just to make sure requests weren’t going to an inbox in an empty plant in China. Now we can see it is something more. Our customers place increased value on personal service, because it reinforces confidence that their supply chains are strong.
How we talk to our customers and prospects has changed now and for the foreseeable future. And we think that’s great. If something good — a more human way of conducting business — comes out of a crisis, that helps us deal with it.
We will get through this together.
We always love to hear from you.
Contact us at 1-800-228-8198 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org