Customer service has never been more important. According to a recent Customers 2020 Report, by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Customers “will expect companies to know their individual needs and personalise the experience.”
And this is not just about consumer service or retail – it is just as important when, as in the distributive trades, you have business customers. Research shows that when business customers receive good service 62% purchase more products or services and 58% recommend the company to others. However, when they have bad service:
59% stop buying from that source
55% switch to another provider
40% recommend to others that they should not purchase from that source
It is estimated that brands in the UK are losing nearly £15 billion annually due to poor customer service.
How can you service competitively?
So what does good customer service and ‘personalising the experience’ mean in the distributive trades?
Customers want you to:
Work with them according to their preference – not yours.
There are many ways you can do this such as offering multiple channels for sales and service, giving them access to real-time inventory and pricing information or allowing them to define SLAs and terms of business.
Deliver on time in full.
This means managing your supply chain, inventory, order and quality assurance processes efficiently and effectively. It also means tracking goods throughout the sales and delivery process so you can deliver accurately.
Offer short lead times.
Forecasting and inventory management are key here too – if you can accurately predict demand you won’t let customers down. Great warehouse management will also enable you to increase the range of goods you stock.
Keep them informed.
Proactive electronic alerts and access to online tracking of deliveries help customers feel confident about the progress of their orders. If things do go wrong they expect you to know before they do, and to resolve problems or disputes swiftly and fairly, so access to real-time data on deliveries is critical.
Add value to their business.
Great customer relationship management, and the ability to process work orders will enable you provide value added services, customise products and put together kits.
Reward them with discounts and rebates.
To do so you need the management information to analyse the impact of the discount on your bottom line, and to trade that off against the impact on the customer relationship. You also need sales and accounting systems that can cope with differential pricing by customer.
Meet their compliance and health and safety standards.
Again this requires in-depth, constantly updated knowledge of each customer’s requirements, and the means to convey this information to warehousing staff and delivery drivers. Customers may also need evidence of compliance so your systems must be able to supply an audit trail.
Making customer service work for you
There is a balance to be struck between offering great customer service and meeting other business need. For example, over-stocking so you can always deliver might delight customers, but it isn’t cost effective. Getting this balance right is complex, and needs careful analysis and planning. The right trading and business management solution can help, automating and integrating business processes, and giving you end-to-end visibility of operations.