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SEE HOW SCA WOOD LIFTS ITS BUSINESS TO NEW HEIGHTS BY ENGAGING CUSTOMERS AND EMPLOYEES

In brief - Results from a comprehensive study among key customers across 12 different countries in Europe, North Africa and Asia show that customers express a very positive attitude towards SCA Wood. “We want our customers to be heard and understood” explains Vanessa Pihlström, Marketing Communication Officer.  


Based on the aggregated result, individual improvement suggestions and feedback from key customers and workshops among SCA co-workers, several concrete actions have been identified and will be implemented to further strengthen SCA Wood’s business relationship with their customers. Read the full story of how SCA Wood is lifting its business to new heights by engaging both customers and employees.       


Vanessa Pihlström is Marketing Communication Officer, driving and coordinating marketing within the business area Wood Products at SCA, one of Europe’s leading suppliers of wood-based products for the wood industry and building materials trade.


This is the first time her division is conducting this type of market research and Vanessa gives a background and describes the set-up of the customer survey. We have two main segments within our business area: Industrial customers, who resell our wood raw material globally to companies working up the material to actual retail items. The survey was conducted with customers across 12 different countries in Europe, North Africa, and Asia.


Our second main segment is Supply customers, where we sell our products directly to building merchants. The Supply segment is present in Sweden, Norway and the UK and the survey was conducted on all three markets. Here we refine the raw material ourselves into decking, outdoor cladding, and dour mouldings etc.


We are very happy over the encouraging survey results that we received, but also a bit surprised. We do have great confidence in our sales reps, and we know very well that they are doing an excellent job, but it is the first time we have conducted such a comprehensive customer survey and to get these results explicitly stated in the survey report made us very content and indeed very proud of our co-workers!


We also found out that we are perceived as rather production focused, which is not uncommon for an industrial company, but that made us realize that we need to be more customer focused in our communication. We want our customers to be heard and understood even though we are not always able to meet all their demands. Sometimes very customer specific products are requested that we cannot always provide due to technical limitations, so now we better know how to explain that in a satisfactory way.


As an example, we have realized that our industrial customers need communication and marketing material which they can use in their marketing process to communicate the benefits of sourcing products from SCA from a sustainability perspective. Vanessa explains that communication around sustainability is a bit complex and concerns so many aspects. But the fact that SCA is Europe’s largest private forest owner gives us so many great advantages.


We need to communicate more around SCA’s responsible and active forest management. There are so many perceptions of what good environmental work really is, as it very much depends on which country you live in. We have now learned that our industrial customers need the same type of sustainability information and communication support as our other type of customers, like our resellers, as the products reach the end customers.


A very appreciated task after the survey was the direct personal follow-up meetings arranged by our salespersons, giving feedback to all survey respondents which, in turn, has resulted in further fruitful discussions. Our French colleague, for example, explained that communication around sustainability and environment is important there too but that digitalization has not come as far. So, as a result we now realize that we must further adapt our way of communication to all our customers, spread around the world and with a technical maturity on different levels. That was great to get confirmed!


Our sales reps tell us that a lot of what we learned from this survey were things that they had already come across in their daily work, but in those situations, their full focus is on serving our customers and meeting their demands. So, doing such a survey really helps in getting a good overview of things, enabling us to make a structured approach and create a relevant action list to address.


Explaining the value in using a neutral, third part consultant like Opticom, Vanessa says that it has been crucial for them to be able to do this at all. During her one-and-a-half-year tenure at the company so far, she realized that some smaller surveys had been conducted internally. However, that cannot be compared with engaging a professional company, specialized in market analyses and she continues: I can say that Opticom’s experience in the field, reaching over many years, as well as their multi-language skills and global reach has been an enormous asset for us. In addition to the technical conduction and the data analysis behind the results, that is truly solid work.


It is very clear to my colleagues and me that any further surveys will be conducted in cooperation with a partner who has the right tools, competence, and time to allocate for this. We will have enough on our plates, following up and acting on the findings!


After an extensive customer survey like this one, Opticom common practice is to present and work through the results with the customer company management and other important internal stakeholders in a workshop setting. According to Vanessa it has been very valuable having had Opticom representatives present and the organized sessions in smaller discussion groups provided very useful additional material.


Even though sales reps often know their customers well, it is still important for them to hear how our customers perceive us and be able to brainstorm and discuss various solutions suggested with their colleagues. After all, they are the ones out meeting our customers. Our business area managers, sawmill managers and business development managers also joined these workshop group discussions and I see it as extremely valuable that they all get the same platform and same basic knowledge. Often these things are communicated only to the sales staff, so it was a good thing that we engaged all involved like this!


Based on the survey results several concrete actions has been implemented already and Vanessa gives some examples:


We have done things in different areas, like launched an improved logistics solution, which was one of the most important issues to us. At this very moment we are rolling out an improved version of our logistics service system, making our customers save time. In our presentation we refer to this initiative being a direct consequence of this customer survey and that feels great! We will continue doing that as we go along, ticking off the points in the action plan that we have set up. 


We are continuously developing our communication around sustainability, finding new ways to adapt our message to different target audiences. That includes doing it market specific and with relevant emphasize, depending on the situation on each market. They all have their unique realities and outlook on these issues, which is something we have learned to consider.


SCA Wood is also constructing a CT scanner at one of their sawmills to meet improved product demands from customers. This investment was decided already before this survey, but we see it as a strength to be able to show our customers that things are truly happening now, this is not coming in 20 years, but we are currently actually implementing things and have a plan ahead to follow!


She reveals that the company will also replace their whole IT system and sees enormous advantages getting a new ERP in place, being an improved tool for increased customer dialogue and segmentation of customer needs. She finds being able to understand customers’ knowledge level better would be a good base for creating individually adapted e-learning solutions, thus enhancing their service offer further.


Vanessa emphasizes how useful it is to actually be aware of their customers’ opinions in order to be able to choose the right tools and to actually get the message across of what they actually are doing to improve things: Companies typically do many great things but forget to inform about them, both to their customers but all too often internally as well.


We are planning to send out newsletters when more actions are being taken and there are several topics to present already: the new logistics solution, different sustainability initiatives, the IT system renewal and so on; and Vanessa is really looking forward to communicating all these good news.


She emphasizes that all concerned parties within SCA Wood, including the management, appreciate the added value emerging from this survey and they definitely intend to continue doing this type of survey on a regular basis: “This was the first time, so we are curious to see how satisfied they are next time around! But we are already discovering how this first round is helping us to improve”. She explains that they have made good use of the material, visiting and doing presentations at all their sawmills around Sweden and also having included the company’s customer service and internal sales departments, making sure that they too are hearing the positive customer feedback: “We feel that it’s important to share this with them, as they are the ones who struggle out in the field every day. This approach is also making it easier for the whole company staff to see and take in all the new opportunities that will come out of our development work.


Vanessa says that it has felt very safe working together with Opticom on this project. “You guys have it all under control and know how things are done in a professional way. It has been invaluable to just carry through such a project with a partner like you, including the final presentation of the results in a workshop. I have used the presentation a lot, presenting extracts from it in sessions for various audiences and I continue to spread the results internally on different levels.”


It has been very anticipated and now it is finally here and being very appreciated, so she really wants to make the best possible use of it. One can easily get frustrated, seeing so many things to address and wanting to do all at once, that’s why she keeps a printed version, to remind her that it is with them and alive and not forgotten, even though everything cannot be done at once.


Briefly reflecting over the project, Vanessa cannot really think of anything missing in Opticom’s delivery: “We got everything we asked for!” She says that she has been very involved in the presentation and says that the comprehensiveness of the report has not been a problem. She sees it as her responsibility to be well informed of the project and that has also helped her in choosing and presenting various parts of it to relevant departments, an approach that has worked very well.


“All in all, everything in this joint project has worked excellently, and I feel very safe with the delivery. It is all very trustworthy and that is most important, because then you are able to have an honest communication with your customers, based on actual facts retrieved”, Vanessa wraps it up.