Friday, September 29, 2023

Alcorn McBride: If you want to go far, go together

Improving your customer experience through collaboration

by Scott Harkless, Alcorn McBride

It would be hard to forget the first time I stepped through the doors of Alcorn McBride as a bright-eyed electronics engineer from the Midwest ready to shake things up and build cool stuff. It’s not that I was completely ignorant about the importance of people in the equation of a successful company, but I didn’t exactly see the world in the same way that I do now.

Back then, I was of the mindset that if you built a great product, people would just naturally buy it. The good news is that this is not a terrible philosophy for an engineer to live by. As it turns out, working hard to make great products is a crucial part of the equation. Naturally, I came to learn that there’s a lot more to it than that over the course of several years diving deep into our industry and working alongside some great mentors. You can build the best product in the world, but whether it goes farther than your desk depends on people. Always.

Over time, I came to embrace a “customer-centric” philosophy. For a manufacturer, this is the practice of steering your company culture and product development based on the idea of creating the best experience for your customers. In hindsight, it all seems like common sense. Companies with a loyal following of customers tend to stay in business significantly longer than those that don’t, and finding new customers is a very difficult, time-consuming, and expensive endeavor. Just ask any start-up company that’s trying to break into an industry! All things being equal, I’m a very big fan of building long-term relationships with customers, getting to know them personally, seeing the world from their perspective, learning what problems they face, and helping to drive development at Alcorn McBride in a way that will provide them with tools to help them succeed.

This approach does come with interesting realizations and challenges as those relationships evolve, some of which might even seem a little counterintuitive. One that I think has been the most profound for me is the importance of partnerships and collaboration. To be clear, I don’t just mean with your co-workers or even just your customers, but with other companies as well. Even those that might be considered competitors, as crazy as that may sound!

Once you set foot in your customer’s world and start to see things the way they do, you quickly realize that you and your organization cannot help them with everything. Not directly, anyway. Chances are that their needs are broad and that your organization has a specific area of expertise. While it’s obvious how you can help them solve a portion of their puzzle, the nature of building strong relationships is incompatible with the idea of just drawing a line there and leaving them to fend for themselves. If you operate with a customer-centric mindset and your goal is to truly improve their experience, this means swallowing your pride and reaching out to others to join forces for the greater good. Only then can you play a stronger role in helping your customer solve the complete puzzle.

If we take a closer look at the technology behind a dark ride attraction, it’s obvious to see where Alcorn McBride products fit in. We excel at sourcing the audiovisual show experiences throughout the attraction and serving as the glue that ties the attraction systems together to ensure they run together harmoniously. While I’m incredibly proud to say that we have a talented engineering team that could probably achieve just about anything, we don’t try to do everything and I’m not ashamed of that. We geek out over motor controls and ladder logic, but we don’t build ride vehicles or ride control systems. We have a deep understanding of digital video technology, but we do not make flat-panels, LED walls or projectors. We’re well-versed in control systems and protocols, but we don’t dabble in the world of motion control and animatronics. The challenge is that our customers need all of these things, so what do we do? We collaborate.

Finding the right companies to join forces with can be a tricky business, though. In many ways, entering a partnership is a lot like making a new friend or hiring a new employee; you can’t just pick anyone. They must be a good fit or problems will quickly ensue. They need to bring some sort of product or skill to the table that complements your company’s role, but you must also work well together in a long-term capacity. That requires shared values, mutual respect and trust.

Once you find the right fit, it’s magical. Not only can you work together to fill the gaps in your customers’ needs, but you can also start taking things a step further to make sure your companies’ collaboration equals more than the sum of its parts. For example, you can both invest development resources to make your products work more seamlessly together, which is something your customer will greatly appreciate when it comes time to design systems that integrate well. You can also cross-promote each other’s solutions in ways that are not possible individually. When core values overlap, odds are high that your partner’s customer base is a good fit for your company, and vice versa. By buddying up, both companies have the opportunity to expand their customer base simply by welcoming each other into their worlds as allies. Both companies grow their business, and their customers have a more complete solution to help them succeed. It’s a win for everybody involved.

For all the wonderful reasons I’ve mentioned, this type of collaboration has been at the heart of how Alcorn McBride has chosen to work with our customers for quite some time. What I’m super excited to share is that we’ve reached the point where these partnerships are growing into something bigger than we had ever imagined. For the first time, we’re coming together with our closest colleagues to put on a series of events called the Attractions Technology Lab, which will include comprehensive technology showcases, educational sessions, and networking opportunities involving multiple partners and manufacturers.

In case it’s not obvious, we see this as the next step toward improving our customers’ experiences by offering them a place where they can go to see the big picture in action. We’re hopeful that this will be a much better experience for them compared to the idea of meeting with companies individually and putting the pieces together themselves. It even allows us to explore other collaborative initiatives to serve the industry better, like the opportunity to get involved with college programs or clubs dedicated to themed entertainment engineering and technology. What better way to expand our collective of partners and customers than by persuading a few more bright-eyed engineers to dive into the industry that we all love.

If this message resonates with you, I hope you’ll take a moment to reflect on the partnerships you and your organization embrace and the ways that you can collaborate to improve the experience of your customers. As the old saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” • • •

Scott Harkless
Scott Harkless
As Chief Innovation Officer at Alcorn McBride, Scott Harkless works closely with clients to determine their biggest areas of need and leads a talented team of problem solvers to create the products used in many of the world’s most popular attractions. He draws upon his experience in product development, system commissioning, client training, marketing, and sales to ensure that the products stamped with the Alcorn McBride logo exceed client expectations and offer value to the entire industry.

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