Customer feedback is vital to growth, but Dave Moffatt has a unique challenge at Prentke Romich Co., which develops and manufactures communication devices and other assistive technology for people with severe disabilities.
“Because our customers are people with communication-related disabilities, that’s challenging work to understand what their needs
and capabilities are,” says the company’s president and CEO.
With 2006 revenue of between $20 million and $30 million, and a two-year growth rate of 28 percent, Moffatt’s 100 employees don’t focus on
competition or margins but on customer needs.
Smart Business spoke with Moffatt about how he uses feedback to better meet the needs of his clients.
Q: How can CEOs better understand their customers’ needs?
It’s a challenge in any business. We have lots of direct interaction with both the people who use our products and also the people that
support our clients.
We use what we call evidence-based practice; we go out, monitor their performance with our products and bring that information back to
improve the product effectiveness.
Two of our technical service folks are people who use our products. That kind of interaction is incredibly valuable to us, not only in terms of
our service but in terms of understanding the real needs and challenges of people with communication-related disabilities. Not every company
can do that, but it’s been very helpful and instructive for us.
I’ve always liked this notion of being intimate with your market. We work hard to do that. The people who represent our products in
the field are clinically trained. They educate and influence, but they also learn a lot of things and bring that back.
Good people are a precious thing, and we have had the fortune here to retain our staff. We’ve got people with 15, 20, 30 years of experience.
Those folks have a perspective of understanding our marketplace that you can’t replace overnight. One of our secrets of success is finding and
retaining those people.
Q: How do you do that?
Over time, we’ve been able to find people who identify with the mission of the company and are committed to that mission. That’s been
more important to us than compensation or benefits. We look for that in the hiring, and frankly, we don’t lose people.
We believe in being flexible; we have lots of folks who work part-time and flexible schedules. If you’re a valuable employee, we need to
accommodate those kinds of needs.
Today we are 15 percent employee-owned. We regard it as a reward for the people who have been here and continue to be here working hard, and it’s an attractive benefit for recruiting good people. We think it’s a way to keep people focused on the outcomes of their
work every day.
Q: How can executives make decisions regarding growth?
Find those populations where you can provide a benefit to folks that they’re not currently getting and be aggressive about delivering that benefit. Then, find really good people who will take ownership of that work.
It’s a simple formula, but it’s not easy to execute, and we make as many mistakes as anybody, but the approach is really that straightforward.
Q: What can prevent a company from growing?
What can be a problem for lots of companies, and especially mid-market companies, is this is a very competitive landscape. Focusing
your company in the right way is where you could add value and compete.
Those decisions are not easy deciding where your company adds value, what are your competitive advantages in the marketplace
and being focused on pursuing those advantages. That’s hard work.
Q: How do you stay focused on your company?
That’s an ongoing challenge for me because, left to my own devices, I think I’d have us going in 20 different directions. We have
a very strong senior management team and a very strong group of employees.
I rely a great deal on their judgment, insights and experience in the marketplace.
We look at the results of the products and services that we put into the market, and we study the performance of the folks who use our
systems. At the end of the day, if people who could not communicate before are effective communicators because of our technology, then
we’re in the right place.
Q: What advice would you give other CEOs trying to grow their companies?
People, people and more people. There are lots of things that have to happen for a company to grow successfully, but underlying all of
those things are people who are talented, experienced and committed to what the company wants to achieve.
If you have that, there isn’t anything you can’t do, and if you don’t have those people, no plan, no amount of capital or anything else is
going to help.
HOW TO REACH: Prentke Romich Co., (800) 262-1984 or www.prentrom.com