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[HOW TO] Deliver What Your Customer Wants, from Caterpillar's Chief Engineer

The most successful enterprises are those that maintain a comprehensive focus on their target as seen through the eyes of their customers. In this vein,...

|May 6|magazine7 min read

The most successful enterprises are those that maintain a comprehensive focus on their target as seen through the eyes of their customers. In this vein, Caterpillar carries out the Cat® Connect program to better understand their customers, improving global strength through this growth acceleration program.

Granted, there are a significant number of measures businesses can undertake in the name of market research in an effort to better understand their customers. However, Caterpillar is committed to digging down even deeper to attain a much more comprehensive, powerful and farther reaching penetration into what it is that truly makes their customers happy, keep them happy and create additional referral opportunities as well.

Caterpillar has collaborated with Kiewit, a large client of the Company, conducting a rotational job exchange over the last two years. This job exchange opportunity is the brainchild of Caterpillar’s Vice President Tom Bluth, borne of his desire to develop and strengthen the Company’s engineers through a more comprehensive focus on their customers. “The start of the program grew out of our desire to drive a deeper understanding of our customers and also enhance the development of our key leaders,” says Bluth.

One might consider this highly unique program akin to a glorified apprenticeship opportunity. Caterpillar’s Chief Engineer (mid-sized wheel loaders) Tim Graham had the honor of being the test pilot for this opportunity. Graham worked with Kiewit for a year, rotating through a range of projects and tasks. This collaboration afforded Graham a very intimate and thorough understanding of exactly what their customer needs, their challenges, daily and long-term implications of specific tasks – he was gifted with a very special view of exactly how to best serve Kiewit.

This approach gives market research an entirely different meaning. “Not only did I gain a deeper understanding of the customer, what their needs are and how we can serve them better, but there was a lot of character building and leadership growth that naturally happened through this experience,” says Graham.

Of course, sales volume, length of client contracts, etc. would largely determine the economic viability of executing this program with other customers. However, Caterpillar is an intelligent enough of a business to understand that even sales and contracts can easily be surpassed by the importance and value of relationships. “If our customers are successful, we will be successful,” says Caterpillar's Darren Knutson. “The value of our relationship with Kiewit is about much more than sales; it is about the relationship and both parties working toward common goals geared toward technological advances in the markets we serve.”

A particularly precious aspect of this Cat® Connect exchange program is that it’s completely replicable. The program’s principles form a fundamental template that can be applied to any of their clients. “This is just the beginning; we're just scratching the surface in developing a deeper understanding of our customers,” says Caterpillar Vice President Karl Weiss who continues ownership of the program. "We have the opportunity, as our understanding grows, to help our customers be more profitable through improved Cat® products and solutions.”