Page 4: Customer service
The Walkers' factory must meet the needs of several types of customers. Some of these are within the business, some of them outside it. The factory is answerable to its head office in Berkshire, who set sales forecasts. It also informs the factory of sales trends and market fluctuations.
Its head office is the plant's 'internal' customer and it is vital for the continued success of the business that the processing plant responds to and meets the forecasts and trends that they provide. The factory has to be capable of stepping up production when required and be able to scale down too, if necessary. If head office decides to produce certain flavours, or combinations of flavours in different quantities, the factory must adjust production to meet these new demands.
Externally, the customers of the business are the many retail supermarket outlets selling Walkers snack foods. Ultimately, the crisp lover is the final and most important customer. All the efforts in the factory must eventually satisfy the consumer. Walkers crisps must sell and this can only be achieved if they meet consumer expectations.
At Walkers, the aim is to deliver 98.5% of what a supermarket has ordered within 24 hours. When the product arrives at a store, it must have a 'shelf life' of at least nine weeks before the 'best before' date. The processes at the Walkers factory have to deliver exactly what customers need - every day. This means daily adjustments to machine loading. For managers and workers at Walkers, this is a challenge they have to meet.
There are 160 different variants of Walkers snacks and orders change constantly. To keep customers satisfied, it is important to get things right. Management must monitor buffer stock levels - products held to cope with variations in sales. Too much stock held awaiting orders is an unnecessary drain on costs, as is seen later.
The need to manage stock levels creates conflict between holding products to meet orders and producing at a level that matches sales. Managers have to consider 'economies of scale'. These are savings per unit brought about by a larger volume of production. Each unit costs less the more that is produced. These facilities have to be balanced against the complex requirements of customers. When production is at its most efficient, it may not always result in meeting specific customer needs.