The Iceberg Problem is common for manufacturers. It states that in many cases only a very small amount of information is available or known about a situation or phenomenon. The bulk of data is either unavailable or hidden. The principle gets its name from the fact that only about 2/10th of an iceberg’s mass is seen outside while about 8/10th of it is unseen and under water. When it comes to customers, it’s important to help them understand that there is more to a process than the minimal amount they see. How can manufacturers help customers see the full picture? In a recent chat for USA Manufacturing Hour on Twitter, , Chase Bodor from Plastic Plus Technology in California, led a discussion about how to help customers see beyond the tip of the iceberg.
What Is the Iceberg Problem?
The discussion kicked off with participants sharing what the "Iceberg problem" is, as they understand it.
Ruby Rusine and the Social Success Marketing said, “The Iceberg Problem: the visible tip of an issue only shows a fraction of the underlying issues. What you don’t see can be bigger, more complex, and harder to tackle than what’s visible on the surface.”
Brett from FreightPOP said, “The Iceberg problem is a problem that, at first glance, seems like a relatively simple problem, but is actually far more complex than it may seem. At least that's what I think!”
Nigel Packer from Pelatis Online said, “In order to make our processes look straightforward the customer does not see the vast amount of work that goes on behind the facade. This is a misguided approach as it will affect the project at all points.”
Emily Kite from Obsidian Manufacturing said, “Only being able to see a small part of what is happening or what something is. Could be used in all kinds of contexts!”
Host, Bodor replied, “So many ways to think about this illustration - from a problem perspective, value, experience, the list goes on!”
Jasmine LaBelle from Velavu Tech said, “Well said! Not understanding the underlying cause of a bigger issue.”
Whitney Koch from Welker said, “This term is new to me, so I'm curious to see the other answers. I'm guessing based on the image that there's often more to the problem than what we see on the surface.”
Host Bodor replied, “Yes, that is definitely one of the most popular interpretations! It extends beyond problems and explains how some processes work, and why there's value in what's being done under the surface.”
Adam Baker from Schooley Mitchell said, “Iceberg problem to me is when you see a problem, but don't actually see the true problem / root cause of the problem.”
Dr Lisa Lang from Science of Business said, “In my experience most "problems" or "challenges" are symptoms or just the tip of the iceberg. And so solve, you need to go to the root cause.””
Kirsten Austin from DCSC Inc said, “I'm not 100% sure.”
Amy M. Anderson said, “Oversimplifying solutions and thereby creating more problems. If the obvious would fix it, it would already be fixed. Of course, the opposite occurs too.”
Kati McDermith, the Manufacturing Hype Girl said, “The thought that there's so much more than what you can see.”
Pavel Stepanov from VirtuDesk said, “The iceberg problem only shows the tip of the problem but underlying it is a larger problem.”
Rusine agreed, “That's a great point.”
Gail Roberson from Gail Now said, “As with much in life - people often don’t understand what happens behind the scenes in operations, marketing, HR, IT, sales and never administration! But it does take a village, and if you don’t support, maintain or respect any of these it can lead to problems”
Host Bodor said, “The iceberg problem we will discuss in this chat: Customers are often unaware of the behind-the-scenes processes that go into making a custom product. They only see the results or what's "above the surface". That only represents 10% of the work being done. The other 90% happens behind closed shop doors.”
Tangible Values Above the Surface
Next, participants discussed what the tangible values are that sit above the surface that customers care about.
Anderson said, “Pretty solutions. Often ones they can take some credit for, after they've paid you for the dirty work, they can enthusiastically resale the top/visible solution.”
Host, Bodor replied, “You can wrap a bow on a bad solution and some might still take it as an improvement. It happens”
Austin said, “Complete guess but product, timeliness of delivery, price and/or performance?”
Baker said, “tangible values that the customers care about - cost, quality, timeliness, service”
Kathy Bodor from Plastic Plus Technology said, “The tangibles: On-time delivery, good product, customer service”
Host, Bodor said, “Yes el presidente!”
Packer said, “This is dependant on the customer groups you are targeting. A straightforward process of developing customer personas to identify their value criterion will help to identify your message content.”
Kite said, “It depends on the target market based on product or brand of ours that we are selling. In general, though, product quality, timeliness, and customer service come to mind.”
Rusine said, “Product quality and benefits.”
Brett said, “Good customer service, high quality products/materials, eco-conscious packaging, and a fair price to name a few!
Michelle Riccetto from Brash Inc. said, “Usability, quality, aesthetic & customer service!
Lang said, “The ones that meet a significant need that your customer has.”
McDermith said, “Value, Integrity, Transparency”
Stepanov said, “Pricing and quality”
Host Bodor replied, “Unfortunately, far too many place pricing before quality :(“
Koch said, “Appearance, functionality, and price?”
Host Bodor said, “Appearance, performance, budget, and time.”
Activities Beneath the Surface
The discussion continued with everyone sharing what kind of activities that happen beneath the surface are ones they WISH customers knew or cared more about.
Rusine said, “In my world, there are several critical activities that happen beneath the surface such as proactive social listening, hyper-targeted content promotion, and detailed engagement metrics tracking using cross-data that most of our customers are unaware of.”
Packer replied, “Tell them, they will understand the skills, knowledge and experience that you bring to the project.”
Lang said, “What I wish customers cared about is irrelevant (to me). What THEY care about drives my marketing and offers. Many times I have to bridge between what they care about and what I can do to help.”
Stepanov said, “Customers may be unaware that many businesses have ethical practices in place, such as fair labor practices or sustainable sourcing. We wish them to care more about these practices and base their purchasing decisions on them.”
Koch replied, “What an interesting point!”
Anderson also replied with, “Great point! The logistics of ethical business is often elusive to customers in a different silo - each silo has unique problems and risks, but ethics MUST be the foremost consideration.”
Packer said, “In some cases, the customer is not interested in your problems they just want a solution. In most cases you should be honest with the silent and keep them informed of the progress, issues or delays that may occur. A well informed customer is a happier customer.”
Anderson said, “deep dives into how a problem develops and how the suction will be used. Usability is huge and takes considerable work, client cooperation, and research to get right. But when it's right it is Golden!”
Baker said, “I wish the customers saw the process we go through to make sure our report provides the best possible options for them. It's a lot of deep diving analysis and back and forth negotiating on their behalf.
LaBelle said, “Safety, operational bottlenecks, employee productivity! Those are just a few off the top of my head”
Brett said, “I wish customers knew just how dangerous working in warehouses and with heavy equipment is. There is a TON that goes on behind the scenes to get a package to a customer!”
Baker replied, “I love talking safety with my clients - it's so interesting to hear how different companies foster different safety cultures (some good - some bad).”
Rusine also replied, “I can feel what you said, Brett. I guess that's the reason why some content creators focus on the BTS (behind the scenes) of their products as their content.”
Kathy Bodor said, “The immense time spent by a Mfr on details they did not take into account during their development phase, to ensure success of their product.”
Koch said, “I think understanding staffing and how our organization is set up would be a huge help.”
Host, Bodor said,” I love that! What would that help bring to the surface?”
To which Koch replied, “I think that would help them understand, in part, the timeline for completion, specifically in Engineering.”
VirtuDesk said, “Some customers are unaware of the significance of their feedback. We wish that they would be more willing to provide feedback and actively participate in the product development process. Their feedback matters.”
Koch replied, “Such a great point! Our goal really should be to make products that fit the customer's needs and address their pain points, and having their input makes it easier.”
Host Bodor said, “Depending on the industry, you will likely find these processes are done behind closed doors without specific mention to the customer: risk management, processing experiments, trial and error, system inputs, NRE costs, and more.”
The next point for discussion is what the risk is in not having these “beneath the surface” activities clearly present throughout the project. Participants shared their thoughts.
Koch said, “Production delays, lots of back-and-forth with the customer, frustrations on both sides...lack of repeat business.”
Lang said, “If your customers/prospects don't understand how YOU meet their significant need better than the competition, the risk is you don't win or retain the business.”
Rusine said, “There'd be a number of misconceptions and/or misunderstandings between the client/customer and the manufacturer/producer/seller. (just a guess)”
VirtuDesk said, “If it is not properly presented, this could cause misunderstandings, missed requirements, and scope creep.”
Kite said, “Could be frustrations from the customer if there comes a delay that is completely unforeseen by them. With transparency comes happy customers!”
Rusine replied, “Agreed - transparency is key to managing customer expectations!”
Baker said, “These activities are an expense. If the client doesn't see or appreciate it but it shows up in the cost of product, they are going to view the product as too expensive for the value. This is the struggle though - few people care about the work to make the steak.”
Stepanov said, “Poor project planning and unclear activities can lead to cost overruns because extra resources are required to compensate for delays or misunderstandings.”
Austin said, “In my humble opinion, I think you should set the expectations honestly. This sets the tone for a good project or purchase, a better customer experience & clearer communication. We've all bought something we regretted and got what we paid for. Well I know I have.”
Packer said, ‘Reputational damage.”
LaBelle said, “Customer frustration, something you really don’t want.”
Host Bodor said, “On the customer side - it can lead to missed expectations, misalignment of goals, undefined costs, and other frustrations.”
He continued, “On the manufacturers side - it can lead to sunk costs, rework, lost time in production/ engineering, overrun budgets.”
Understanding the Full Picture
The chat concluded with a discussion of how processes can improve to help customers understand the full picture.
VirtuDesk said, “Use simple, clear language that customers can understand. Avoid using jargon or technical terms. To help illustrate complex ideas, use visuals such as diagrams or flowcharts.”
Packer replied, “So true. If the customer is not part of your industry, don't make them learn your jargon to understand your product and business.”
Rusine said, “Create clearer, simpler processes and proactively provide information & support. This helps our customers understand the steps, their options & the impact of their decisions. We can also use feedback to make sure all their concerns are addressed.”
Kathy Bodor said, “Two schools of thought; 1. Find out if your customer gives a hoot first, or are they just interested in the result. Otherwise, it could appear as whining. 2. Provide a detailed plan to the customer of the anticipated activities based on the current understanding of the project.”
LaBelle said, “Transparency is everything. A little self promo, Velavu can help with that.”
Lang said, “I don't think customers what to fully understand how the sausage is made. They just want you to say what you're going to do and do what you said when you said you'd do it.”
Austin said, “I think it's important to really be able to communicate how you do business & understand exactly how your client does business. It's better to pay attention during the sales process than after!”
Stepanov said, “Provide training or support to customers if they are not familiar with the technology or procedures used. By doing so, they may become more confident and experience less confusion or irritation.”
Packer said, “So many say they have no news or content to post in their Blogs, Social media and digital assets. Short articles, process flow charts and videos can demonstrate what goes into making you a great company and provide lots of content to inform the customer.”
Koch said, “Process—we need David Crysler! In our case, providing customers with an overview of the project when they place a custom order so they can see the number of departments involved.”
Host Bodor said, “By educating our customers on processes that they may find valuable, but don't have insight into. By having customer participate in the process - when it makes sense. By engaging customers on a platform that allows them to absorb information and ask questions.”
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