Sunday, June 27, 2010

Conflict Resolution

This is the first of many blogs I intend to post documenting my job search in Michigan. The following is my answer to a conflict resolution question that I must submit along with a job application which I won't submit for a few days yet so I can critique both this and my cover letter. Please criticize!

"Describe a time when you had to resolve a complex problem for a difficult customer. How did you approach the problem, what types of actions and resources did you utilize to resolve the problem and was the customer satisfied with the resolution."

When I was employed as an Assembly Line Supervisor, my line was selected to go through a process we called “Kaizen.” Kaizen is a Japanese word that refers to change leading to an improvement in manufacturing processes. Consequently, I was able to serve on a team of individuals with varying job titles to increase the efficiency of my assembly line while improving quality. It was an extensive process, taking about six months to finish. At its completion, I was excited to have a new, re-vamped assembly line that I had the opportunity to help build.

As part of the process, we invited our customer, Chrysler, to come and see what we had done as our old assembly line had not been without problem and we were eager to show our customer the steps we had taken to remedy those problems in the interest of maintaining our business relationship.

Three representatives from Chrysler were to evaluate our new assembly line and, as the supervisor and a participant in the process used to build the new line, I was assigned to perform the walk through.

I performed all of the necessary steps one performs when a visit of this kind is to occur. I scrubbed the assembly line from top to bottom. I taped new lines on the floor. I added new, bright colors to the hourly production board meant to stimulate the senses of my employees and show my customer we cared about what we were doing. I coached my employees on how they should act and what they should do.

My boss was there to watch my performance and I sparkled in providing my tour, right up until the last station. Our plant built side view mirrors for automobiles, both electric and manual. My line was running electric for this visit, meaning that the mirrors had a wire harness that would hook up to the car allowing the driver to press a button to move the mirror around.

The last station on the line was meant to check the integrity of the wiring. If the harness was told to move the mirror left and it moved right, an alarm would sound and red paint would be sprayed on the glass to alert the packaging station not to pack that part for delivery- it had been wired wrong.

I had asked one of my operators to mis-wire a mirror, in the presence of the Chrysler engineers, so I could show them this great, new feature on my line. The operator made a slow and careful show of mis-wiring the mirror, but when it got to the last station, the testing station, it passed with flying colors. It was as though it had announced in its most proper, British voice, “I am positively wired correctly. Please pack me up and send me to your customer!” Based on the three sets of eyes now fixed on my face, not to mention, the very red face of my boss, who was clearly blaming me for this mishap, the customer was not pleased.
I was put in a position where my boss was speechless and my customer wanted an answer. I promptly apologized and turned to my assistant, requesting that he called maintenance. I steered my customer away from my employees and over to my makeshift desk. I told them that until maintenance arrived, I couldn't tell them what had gone wrong, but that I could assure them that this was the first time this error had occurred. I opened a binder that contained all of my notes and data regarding the Kaizen process and showed them the results of all the tests we had done on my line. It became apparent that this data did not solve their concerns and that they were very upset.

Ultimately, I told them that we would not leave them without support on this issue. We would get a team together to manually re-test the parts before they left the facility for delivery and I offered to lend my support by driving to the Chrysler plant fifty minutes away and stand on the door line to take care of re-working any mirrors that had already been shipped. I did this for three days until the re-tested parts came through. Gladly, none of the mirrors were wired incorrectly and I was able to turn in a data chart that showed that every mirror I tested was error free.

In manufacturing, there will always be something that goes wrong and responding becomes nothing short of procedural. However, building relationships in business will always be important. Customers feel assured when a face they recognize and trust shows up at the door to solve a problem.

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