Customer enquiry management and product customization: an empirical multi-case study analysis in the Italian capital goods sector
Purpose – The customer enquiry management (CEM) process is of strategic importance in engineer-to-order contexts but existing literature does not adequately describe how firms support delivery date setting and order acceptance decisions in practice. This paper seeks to explore how and why the CEM process varies between companies in the capital goods sector, thereby taking a contingency theory approach.
Design/methodology/approach – Multi-case study research involving 18 Italian capital goods manufacturers in four industrial sectors. Face-to-face interviews with senior representatives have been conducted. Companies have been grouped into five clusters, based on similarities in their CEM decision-making modes, to aid analysis.
Findings – Three contingency factors were found to be particularly relevant in determining CEM modes: degree of product customization, flexibility of the production system, and uncertainty of the context. These factors affect the choice of specific CEM decision-making modes. However, a high level of cross-functional coordination and formalization of the process were found to constitute best practices whatever the contingency factors.
Research limitations/implications – The research focuses on companies belonging to the Italian capital goods sector – findings may differ in other countries and sectors.
Practical implications – The results indicate that all firms, including small and medium-sized companies, should implement high levels of cross-functional coordination and formalization in their CEM practices, in order to improve their performance. For other aspects of the CEM process, including supplier and subcontractor monitoring, the company context will indicate whether these aspects are required, according to a need of matching the approach to CEM with specific sets of contingency factors.
Originality/value – This paper provides a rare insight into the CEM processes found in practice.