SCA CONTAINERBOARD - STRENGTHENING CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS AND IMPROVING MARKET POSITIONING

“Greatly appreciated by our customers and an invaluable tool to strengthen customer relations and further improve SCA’s market position”.
Mikael Frölander has vast experience from the international forest industry, previously also holding positions at Grycksbo AB, Papyrus and Stora Enso.
Mikael has been a client to Opticom International Research for over 10 years, both at previous positions as well as at his present one at SCA. Here he shares his experiences with Opticom, focusing on the latest joint project which he was personally involved in: SCA Containerboard Customer Research 2018, which was a continuation of an earlier, similar study, which Opticom conducted back in 2014.
The main objective was to track progress and measure the effects of their hard work and initiatives taken as a response to the valuable feedback given in the previous project: Did their customers appreciate their efforts so far? What more could be done to improve and how? Ultimately, they wanted to gain the latest in-depth market insights on how SCA could contribute even more to their customers success and find new opportunities together.
Mikael says that the study of 2014 served as an excellent foundation for launching the next one, “We had a very good base and modified the different areas of investigation and specific questions to get them even more to the point, so that in the end, the outcome of the 2018 survey was even better.”
Right from the beginning, choosing Opticom to provide SCA Containerboard with the customer study, was based on Opticom’s profoundly good reputation in the forest industry, as Mikael points out, “Opticom is well-known within the industry for providing very good qualitative research and strategic advice.”
In addition to getting a compehensive report with the aggregated results and in-depth analysis, Mikael found it very interesting and valuable to read all the detailed transcripts of the individual interviews. When asked about whether Opticom adds value as a project partner, he emphasizes that Opticom has highly skilled project management and very talented consultants, all staff being very committed market researchers with vast forest industry knowledge and experience, “They grasp what it’s all about, and many of our SCA clients actually got back to us, saying that the interviews were very professionally conducted, actually much better than they had imagined!”
It’s crucial for a company within B2B market research to have a team of consultants who know and master the various topics, including understanding the specific industry terms. Most of the consultants have worked with other forest industry-related studies for several years and Mikael stresses that, in order to obtain relevant information, it’s important that the customers feel that they are understood and that the different topics are discussed in-depth with the use of open-ended questions. This is also what distinguishes Opticom’s qualitative approach from traditional customer surveys with short multiple choice-questions which might not provide enough relevant or useful information to act upon in the end.
According to Mikael, the main benefit of this specific project was to be able to get personalized feedback from customers, based on the detailed transcripts provided by Opticom. He actually made direct personal follow-up meetings with 30% of the survey respondents himself and in total, SCA had individual discussions with 90% of the customers participating in the study.
This is something that the customers appreciated greatly, with some saying that they had never got this kind of dedicated response on a customer study before. This has resulted in an even closer customer relationship and has also strengthened SCA’s market position overall, according to Mikael.
Concerning what the market insights provided by Opticom has meant to SCA as a supplier and what has been most valuable, Mikael concludes, “We have been able to confirm that we are on the right track even though there is still work to be done. We now have a much better understanding on how to proceed and our customers really trust us in that, which in itself is invaluable.”

 

STORA ENSO: VOICE IS INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT TO THE COMPANY

In 2013, Stora Enso approached us at Opticom International Research with one particularly interesting project: their VOICE customer loyalty research programme; and when the Renewable Packaging Division decided to entrust us with interacting on a daily-basis with their customers it became the start of a long-term partnership. This project has been growing over the years and is now running over 80 countries worldwide.

John McKechie – Vice President, Customer & Sales Support at Stora Enso – gives us his views on these first years of cooperation.

Stora Enso decided to implement a customer experience project to obtain measurable and actionable feedback from their customers in order to better understand the areas of improvement; but also where they are doing well. As Opticom International Research worked with Stora Enso over many years conducting varied surveys and research projects on our behalf: it was a logical partnership for the VOICE program.


When asked about what the project means to Stora Enso and which part is the most valuable, John answers, “VOICE is increasingly important to the company. We need to have a consistent way to measure our customers’ experience, which also gives us impartial and detailed feedback. VOICE does not give us all the answers, but it does clearly indicate to us where we need to take improvement actions. The trend analysis also shows how we are viewed by our customers in comparison to our competition.”

More than just providing feedback and data, the programme can lead to making specific business decisions. John explains, “Many of the decisions we make might be relatively minor, specifically taken to address an issue raised by a customer e.g. changing the production order on a machine to reduce lead times. However, larger systemic issues are highlighted and this has led, for example, to significant reviews being made of our supply chain to address low scoring when it comes to delivery reliability, delivery consistency and delivery times.” And these decisions are leading to the improvement of Stora Enso’s processes and services.

John brings forward the advantages of working with a third party: “Opticom are experts in the research field and, although you are clearly communicated to our customers as being our partner in this process, you are still perceived as being independent. This allows us to get impartial, honest and detailed feedback from our customers which we would not be able to do if we conducted the interviews internally.”

Today communication is the cornerstone of any businesses and we – at Opticom – are eager to understand how our clients communicate about researches and their results. John shares that he himself communicates about the VOICE programme internally. He adds, “Within our Divisions there is regular communication of VOICE results and VOICE is on the agenda of Management Team meetings down through the organisation structure. VOICE is also a regular feature of the CEO’s monthly All Employee Call. Occasional articles will also appear in internal publications.”

John concludes his testimonial by highlighting that “the project ensures that we get regular, impartial feedback and meaningful detailed verbatim. As the interviews are conducted externally, there is a stronger belief in the accuracy of the scores and the honesty of the comments from our customers.”

 

WORKSHOPS ON CUSTOMER FEEDBACK HELP MUNKSJÖ IN ACHIEVING ITS BUSINESS GOALS

Munksjö has the aim to be a global leader in high-quality specialty papers, providing customers with a unique product offering for a large number of industrial applications and consumer-driven products. In developing its strategy and business planning, customers’ experiences and input are extremely important in order to ensure decisions are taken that really are of value to Munksjö’s customers and which will result in a more favourable competitive position for the company.

“Customer focus is key to succeed in the process of reshaping ourselves following the merger with Ahlstrom’s Label and Processing business,” says Jan Åström, President and CEO of Munksjö Oyj. “At the end of the day, our customers are those who pay our salaries. Their evolving needs and challenges, as well as our competition, mean that we must continue to improve if we want to stay ahead.”

To involve customers in this open dialogue about Munksjö’s current performance and future position, Opticom was engaged to develop a plan and design a model for gathering and analysing customer input and measuring customer satisfaction. A global, company-wide survey was conducted covering all business areas: Decor, Release Liners, Industrial Applications as well as Graphics and Packaging. Customers provided positive feedback and highlighted clear strengths, as well as suggestions on where improvements could be made and how they would like Munksjö to develop.

To further increase internal motivation and commitment, Opticom and Munksjö organized a series of workshops with representatives for the different business areas covering a wide range of functions across the organization in order to make the most of the input customers provided. In total, more than 80 managers from across the globe were involved in reviewing customer feedback and creating ideas on what can be done to ensure customers will be even more satisfied with Munksjö in the future.

“I am impressed with the high level of engagement we have seen from all participants and the impressive list of actions that have come out of all workshops ranging from quick-wins to important long-term strategic initiatives,” Jan Åström concludes. “Our employees have helped us in taking customer suggestions and translating them into specific actions that we can use to make sure customers will continue to see us as a preferred supplier. Opticom’s method has given us insight into which actions would be of greatest value to our customers and which our organization would like to prioritise.”

 

HOW SÖDRA CELL BENEFITED FROM IMPLEMENTING OPTICOM’S FUTURE LAB CONCEPT!

“For some time now, the paper market has been undergoing significant changes, with reductions in the consumption of several different paper grades, which in turn has seen a reduction in the consumption in pulp. This is a trend we expect will continue,” says Anna Altner, who manages the Pulp Labs communications tool and website at Södra Cell International AB.

“As a leading manufacturer of market pulp, Södra Cell has spent many years investigating the potential uses of cellulose fibre for products beyond paper production. Just recently, we have succeeded in developing new, exciting areas of use and products, for which we have even received international prizes, so it’s all very encouraging,” says Altner proudly.



“Our researchers and innovators have recently developed another new, exciting material, which we call FoamPulp. Things are still at a very early stage, and we’re looking at different areas of use, with packaging proving to be particularly interesting,” continues Altner. “Packaging is showing clear global growth and consumption is expected to continue to grow for the foreseeable future, so if we can get into that segment with FoamPulp it would of course be a very positive step for the company!”


“It goes without saying that focusing on a new product in a completely new area of use involves having to make several strategic decisions, not least because it may involve some major investment. This, in turn, requires that the basis for decision making must be as thoroughly reviewed and reliable as possible. For example, it’s important that the entire value chain in a new area of use, in this case packaging, is analysed as carefully as possible in order to establish that the product is usable when viewed from all potential perspectives, all the way up to the customer,” says Altner.


“We at Södra Cell International supply our product, market pulp, to paper manufacturers throughout the world, and are very familiar with the value chain. But we only have limited knowledge about this value chain, which is linked to the packaging segment via manufacturers, converters, etc. up to the end customer, and this was a problem we were forced to resolve,” says Anna. We realised that it would be an excellent opportunity to test Opticom’s Future Lab concept, to see if its method of professional networking and round table discussions with various stakeholders would produce the information we needed, particularly bearing in mind that we were at a very early stage in the FoamPulp development process.”


Consequently, Opticom was given the task of implementing a full-scale Future Lab project focusing on the packaging industry, the purpose of which was to get answers to a number of questions linked to the usability of FoamPulp.


“We wanted to include participants from a broad spectrum of backgrounds in the round table discussions, preferably top level decision makers who were intimately familiar with the problems and requirements facing their respective areas, and with the best network of contacts to the different market players,” explains Altner. “Working in conjunction with Opticom, we decided to invite representatives from brand owners, packaging design agencies, logistics companies, converters and the environmental movement, e.g. players that influence the entire value chain.”


“Our own contacts within the value chain were initially very limited, so we tasked Opticom with selecting and inviting people they considered to be the most appropriate participants,” continues Altner. “Using Opticom’s network, we brought together interesting groups to the various round table meetings, particularly to the meeting held in the Malmö region, which of course was thanks to all the packaging segment expertise on hand.”


A total of eight round table meetings were held – four in Sweden, two in the UK and two in Germany. Everything was staged and hosted by Opticom, who dealt with everything from issuing invitations to leading the actual discussions. Opticom employee Mats Nygård acted as moderator for all meetings. Every session was filmed in order to make a record of all perspectives and comments, whilst representatives from Södra Cell were able to monitor the entire procedure from an adjacent room.


“Having Opticom provide support in the form of issuing invitations and handling arrangements was extremely valuable to us, undeniably increasing the credibility of the project. The fact that things were all done on a neutral footing is very important, which is what we see as one of the strengths of the Future Lab concept. At the same time, it was clear that Södra Cell was the client, but we played a discreet role in the background during the meetings,” explains Altner.


How has Södra Cell benefited from this Future Lab project?


“First and foremost, we’ve managed to confirm that there is a demand for the type of material from which FoamPulp is made, and that was the principle question we wanted an answer to. In addition, we know that the Future Lab method actually works – the project also acted as a test for this question – and may therefore be an important working method for us in the future,” says Altner.


“In addition to this, a lot of other things emerged from the project that are very valuable to us. Let me just give you a few examples:


– We now have an extensive list containing a large number of interesting people in what is for us a completely new segment, who will be very valuable to have in our network in the future. We contacted several of them after the project for follow-up purposes and have had some interesting discussions. We’ve also set up a special group on the LinkedIn social network website where all members can login and communicate with each other, which really delivers significant added value for the entire project, both for us and the participants.


– For many years, Södra Cell International has worked successfully to strengthen the company’s brand. The Future Lab project has enabled us to put the company on the map and strengthen our brand in the minds of significant parts of the packaging segment value chain. Evidence for this can be seen in the fact that, after the project, we met a number of people who had been involved in the round table discussions in other contexts who said that ‘Yes, we know Södra, especially after that interesting project we were involved in!’ Clearly we’ve strengthened our brand! We have also recorded interviews with some of the people who participated in the project and put the videos on the Pulp Labs website, which is also part of our brand building process.


– It’s incredibly important that employees in our R & D organisation, Innovation, are familiar with the requirements that the market impose on the products they develop in order to ensure that the products we develop are usable and can be marketed. Colleagues from Innovation sat in an adjacent room during all eight Future Lab meetings, getting immediate feedback from the packaging industry in terms of the perspectives and requirements they had for FoamPulp, which has proved to be very valuable indeed. The information obtained in this way can certainly be regarded as more credible that information obtained through our own marketing organisation, which is understandable. There are two worlds with differing types of competence requirements that must be satisfied, and so Future Lab provides added value even in this context. We’ve also been able to establish the working method in the entire value chain and got a better understanding of it, which has also been very useful.”


What did the participants think about being part of the project – have you received any comments?


“The feedback we received was almost exclusively positive. They thought that it was an interesting and exciting to meet in a group with people from the entire value chain. Many saw it as an opportunity to get something back in their professional roles. We also got the impression that many people felt privileged to be invited to participate, especially as FoamPulp was still at such an early stage of development. Having the opportunity to be involved and express views was seen as being highly valuable. All participants have been able to find out who participated in the various round table meetings, and can now contact each other, e.g. through the special group we’ve set up on LinkedIn, which has also drawn positive reactions. We actively communicate with participants via LinkedIn.”


What other experiences of this Future Lab project would you like to highlight, Anna?


“Well, we now know that it’s very rewarding and valuable to bring together a group of people from various players in a value chain in the same room and discuss specific issues under the leadership of a professional moderator. It’s a very effective way of working to get information. Without doubt, the project met our expectations.”


“We can also say that internal reporting and, above all, the process of implementing the results and conclusions from the project, has been time-consuming, which we had underestimated to a certain extent. It would have been more efficient to also ask Opticom to take care of this task and to run a number of workshops in our organisation. We’ll take this on board as an experience for future projects.


“Otherwise, we’re very happy with the way in which Opticom managed the assignment – from planning and the selection of participants, to the implementation of the project, analysis of results and compilation of the report. I’d also like to put on record that Opticom’s moderator, Mats Nygård, did a wonderful job at each round table meeting. Mats is a well-read man and led the discussions in a patient yet effective way – very impressive!”


What about the future – will Södra Cell International be running further Future Lab projects?


“Almost certainly, although there are no concrete plans to do so at the moment. This last project was about getting a visionary perspective on a product that was at a very early stage of development, as well as the discussion of ‘soft’ questions associated with building relationships both within and outside the company. Next time, it would be very interesting to run a Future Lab with more concrete questions related to a project that was further along in the development process,” concludes Altner.

 

IGGESUND BECOMES A TRADEMARK

Holmen succeeded in registering the name Iggesund as a trademark. Iggesund is now part of an exclusive group including fine Swedish companies such as Gustavsberg, Orrefors and Kosta Boda. Still, this valuable outcome was not the only value in going through the process including a legal case, gathering testimonials and doing a brand survey, as those involved also refreshed their knowledge about the company’s history and its heritage of branding.


For Holmen’s business area Iggesund Paperboard branding has always been important as a way to create added value for its products over time. Iggesund has created premium products since the start in 1685 when Isak Breant the elder produced iron products at the ironworks in Iggesund. “With these products he had the feeling that they were not just any products. These were high quality iron products that he and his company had made. So on all products they shipped, he stamped the logo with the crowned anchor. Why did he care? Why did he do it? If he had not done it, it would have been just any iron product. It would have become a bulk product where the only competitive parameter becomes price,” Carlo Einarsson, Director Market Communications at Iggesund Paperboard, refers to the company’s long history.

“If we translate this to Iggesund and our products then we create brands for building added value. We want to stand out from the crowd. Why should anyone choose your brand or your product? This depends on the different promises you over time have embedded in your product and for which the product is recognised. This sounds a lot like theory but it is also the reality. We know this makes a difference. By branding our products we get a platform to discuss our products and what they can do: which added value our products can create for our customers when it comes to printing and converting, but also when it comes to design. It gives designers the freedom to work with a product they know will work well.” Carlo Einarsson continues. “Working with brands in the long-term way we do is really a big part of our heritage. We have the privilege to work with these strong brands and our brand families Invercote and Incada are among the strongest in their fields: Invercote is rated number one and Incada among the top three. Incada is still a very young product. We launched the brand ten years ago and this shows that it can be done. I often get questions like: ‘This is easy for you to talk about, you have been doing this for such a long time, but if I start now I do not stand a chance.’ But that is wrong. You do not reach huge sales successes by having a bold campaign or devising some inspired idea, but if there is a trick it is to get started.”


“Our product brands meet in Iggesund and Iggesund in turn is a business area within the Holmen group. So Iggesund is also a brand for us and Iggesund is known in the market for quality with a capital Q. We are known for our sustainability, for our competence, and as a life insurance for printers and converters if they need something extra. Sometimes I get to hear that ‘I need Iggesund for this job’ and then often Invercote is meant. There is a symbiosis between Incada, Invercote and Iggesund and Iggesund in turn is well embedded in the Holmen group.”


Last summer Opticom conducted a brand survey for Iggesund. The reason was that Holmen wanted to register Iggesund as a trademark but that the Swedish Patent and Registration Office normally does not approve these types of registrations and accordingly Holmen’s initial request to this purpose was denied. Although Holmen not owning the brand Iggesund could be explained with existing rules and practice, at one point in time Iggesund did own the name as a brand but it was lost during the centuries.


Carlo Einarsson describes the challenge: “When we discussed this with our trademark solicitors they told us that it may seem easy but that it would be a difficult case. So we started to gather testimonials from our customers in Sweden and abroad and also from different trade organisations and complemented these with a market survey that was tailored to our needs. We decided that if we would give it a try, we would do the best we possibly could and see where that would get us. The survey showed very clearly that Iggesund is a very strong brand and the survey’s results formed an important part in the total case we put forward to the court. We could show different questions with different types of answers and how they were distributed in relation to each other. They provided a strong case as we were very careful with ensuring the survey would be statistically significant. So all the proportions and answers were easy to accept and the survey provided a type of factual answers testimonials could not.”


Autumn 2008 Holmen filed its appeal and in December 2010 the company received the answer that the court had overturned the earlier decision from the Patent and Registration Office and that Holmen got the right to use Iggesund as a trademark. Now Iggesund is part of an exclusive group including fine Swedish companies such as Gustavsberg, Orrefors and Kosta Boda. “We had the feeling that we had a strong case and the court even referred to the fact that the company Iggesund had contributed to making the town better known that it had been.” Carlo Einarsson reflects on the court case. “It feels good that we own Iggesund again. We are focusing our branding efforts on our product families Invercote and Incada, but if feels like a comfortable situation to own the name and it provides us with possibilities and freedom.”


When asked why Opticom was chosen as a partner to conduct the survey, Carlo Einarsson answers “Part of the reason that we contracted Opticom to do this survey was because the company is well known in the forest industry and the company has a strength in its competence in different types of market research. We knew that together with Opticom we would not just get the opportunity to buy a standard product but rather the possibility to tailor-make a survey that could help us in our line of reasoning. We also have a well-established relationship with Opticom and we work together with Opticom in a number of projects, so it was a very natural decision. Then I can also add that Jessica Tommila as project manager was extremely competent as usual. She really helped us out although it was during the summer period. What is more, we also know that if Opticom says ‘this is something we can do’ that the end result will be really good, which ensured us that we really would have done the best we could.”

 

CUSTOMER FOCUS IS UPM’S HIGHEST PRIORITY

Throughout the years, Opticom has promoted the significance of conducting regular customer satisfaction surveys to many of its clients. Conducting these surveys and, more importantly, acting upon the results so that customer relations can be further strengthened, has helped many of our clients to strengthen their market position. UPM is one of Opticom’s clients who have taken this message to their heart and regularly track their customers’ opinions to reach its aim of staying at the top and being their clients’ preferred paper supplier and partner.


Making sure customers are satisfied seems a straightforward business strategy that most companies should be following. Still, some companies are better at developing an understanding of what really makes their customers satisfied and which expectations this places on them as a supplier. The rationale behind the focus on customer needs is highlighted by Ruud van den Berg, Senior Vice President Sales and Marketing for UPM Paper Business Group: “Our enterprise needs to be focused on meeting our customers’ demands. We cannot start producing in large volumes and after that start to consider who we will sell it to and how. Instead, we adapt our production and our service offer to our customers’ needs.”

UPM’s customer focus also has had a clear impact on the company’s way of organising itself to make sure customer demands are met in the best way possible. “Two and a half years ago we have reorganised our company and are now structured along types of customers rather than on products. We have a one-face-to-the-customer strategy allowing our customers to buy all their products from the same sales contacts irrespective of which products they buy. The customer is seen as important because of all the products this customer buys whether this is about a bulk commodity such as newsprint or a specialty one-sided coated paper. In the past we had product specialists, but today we have customer specialists who are specialised in the needs of their customers regardless of the product.” Ruud van den Berg explains.



From a market communication perspective, doing customer satisfaction research may be a way to show that a company cares for its customers, but communicating about and then acting upon the results really proves to customers a company is serious about its motives behind doing such research. Ruud van den Berg further develops this point: “Just conducting all these customer surveys already shows how much we appreciate our customers’ views on how we perform and what service we provide. But then it is not just about finding out where we are today, it is much more important to see what kind of improvements our customers expect from us. Our management teams use these results to define clear improvement actions and we regularly follow-up to see if these have been implemented and noticed by the market. We have also learned to consider all feedback objectively. Though we in the past may have tried to find excuses, we are now looking at all customer comments and suggestions and try to find out what we can do to improve the situation.”


“The surveys recognise which areas we are strong in and they allow us to recognise where we should remain strong and not lose focus from these areas as they are apparently important to our clients as well. That is one of the advantages of your surveys: that they clearly highlight which areas are of real importance to the clients in addition to evaluating our performance. The survey also shows which of our weaknesses really matter to our customers and where they expect us to improve,” Ruud van den Berg describes some of the outputs from the survey. “What is more, the studies also clearly show our progress throughout the years and show how we have learned from the feedback our customers have provided us with. Since we started conducting these surveys, we can clearly notice how we have improved and strengthened our position. The comparison becomes very interesting when we look at the survey we conducted in 2007 right before the economic crisis hit and compare it with the results we obtained in the last survey. Despite a couple of really tough years we still have managed to improve our performance and strengthen our customer relations by listening to our customers.”

 

HOLMEN PAPER: SATISFIED CUSTOMERS

Customers’ positive attitude towards Holmen Paper has improved, according to this year’s customer survey by market analysts Opticom International Research. Customers now give Holmen Paper higher marks for service and support than in previous surveys.

The report shows that customers particularly value Holmen Paper’s service. In questions about business relations and technical support, they state that Holmen Paper does a better job than its competitors. Holmen Paper also receives high marks in the areas of corporate image and market communications.



One of the main purposes of Holmen Paper’s customer surveys is to gain feedback as a way of identifying where to focus improvement measures. Since the same types of question are asked on a regular basis, it is also possible to tell whether such measures have had the intended impact. Comparisons with 2008, for example, show that the work carried out to improve technical support has proved highly fruitful. However, on the question of improving product quality, the company has not been quite as successful, and that task is now taking top priority at all the mills. The area of delivery service also has aspects that need addressing.


“We have an excellent foundation for this through the work that has been done in our internal Preferred Supplier project,” says Anders Gyllenhammar, Vice President Marketing & Sales. “We’ll now be continuing and expanding that work, based on the latest survey results.”


A general conclusion to be drawn from the three surveys conducted in 2006–2010 is that customers appreciate their strong business relations with Holmen Paper, and that contact and communication is excellent.

“The results inspire us to continue doing our very best and always try to solve any problems that may occasionally arise,” comments Anders Gyllenhammar.


This article was originally publised in Holmen’s Paper, Nr. 3, 2010

 

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