Distributors face challenges that are unique when providing quality service and an extraordinary customer experience. As business people we all know that building trust, honest communication and follow through is crucial to customer satisfaction. Knowing that the customer is always right is the golden rule we hear over and over – yes we get that. But these platitudes have to be supported with tangible tools and processes for a distributor.
Retaining clients and capitalizing on the lifetime value of that client is crucial to increased profit margin. The cost of acquiring a new client diminishes margin as opposed to ongoing revenues of existing clients. So you must understand what is important to them. With years of experience helping distributors improve their business, we have tracked what is really important to your customers. Here is what your customers have to say.
Six statements heard from customers:
Have what I am looking for in stock!
Inventory management is king in this industry. There are hundreds of whitepapers dedicated to this single topic alone. Software tools abound. Knowing what you have on hand and on order does not satisfy the customer if you don’t have what they want when they want it. Ultimately, you must have tools that help you forecast demand based on sales projections and historical activity. A good software solution will include inventory analysis tools that assist with determining correct stocking levels for each inventory item. These tools can help you balance of cost of carrying excess inventory against the potential loss of a client and the lifetime value of that client's revenue.
Extraordinary Customer Experience Tip: If you don’t have what they need, email them an apology with a discount code/coupon for their next order.
Get my order right!
Sounds simple, but this is also a very complex topic. First, a confirmation of the order the client placed is a must. This means it is essential to have software that sends an automatic notification to the customer as soon as the order arrives. Next, your warehouse management process and technology tools must support an expedited and audited“pick/pack/ship” process to insure that what is pulled from stock is what the customer ordered. Scanning devices leverage“pick/pack/ship” methodologies which increase accuracy. When the order hits the customer’s dock, the merchandise should be exactly what your packing list states and the packing list should exactly match the customer’s purchase order. Then when your invoice arrives at your customer's office, the dollar amount should be exactly what was quoted. Fully integrated distribution software can facilitate this “order to delivery” process seamlessly. If you don’t have this technology in place, your client’s next vendor will.
Extraordinary Customer Experience Tip: If any item on the order was not filled properly, offer them that item at no charge.
Make it easy for me to do business with you!
You must have various methods for accepting orders and answering questions. An online order processing site will be preferred by some clients, others will want to email their orders, and some prefer a phone conversation where they can get immediate answers to their questions as they place their orders. This means both software tools and business processes that staff can follow must be in place to insure each type of order is captured correctly. As more millennials enter the market, they want web order and online chat. If your product is complex or has many variations, having well trained client representatives available for online chat or phone conversations is an absolute must. Make it easy to place the order, repeat orders, and get their special pricing correct without making the client have to ask for it.
Extraordinary Customer Experience Tip: Have each staff member begin the conversation with “I see that you last placed an order with us on…..”
Know who I am and what I like!
Don’t make your customer repeat or provide information that you should readily have at your fingertips. If your customer asks about a pending order and they provide their purchase order number or shipment tracking number, you must be able to quickly access their information with the data they supplied. Don’t make the client refer to your internal sales order number. Having quick, easy access to prior orders and the ability to duplicate and modify prior orders is crucial. You should know their shipping preferences and unique packaging, labeling or billing preferences. This means your software tools must support all these options and your staff has to know how to leverage the software for quick response.
Extraordinary Customer Experience Tip: Have each staff member state, “I see you prefer XYZ shipping and that you like all your orders to be labeled with your special instructions. Anything else unique about this order today?”
Get my order out on time!
You can get everything else correct, but if the order is not on time, that is the only thing the customer will remember. Since you don’t have control over the order once it leaves your dock, you must take control over all processes that will drive toward on-time deliveries. First, establish a policy that requires all orders to leave your dock one or two days earlier than necessary given your shippers estimated delivery date. Second, establish minimum performance requirements with each carrier. Third, confirm shipment arrival and log both on-time and late shipments. Finally, routinely review performance by each carrier. Then you can determine what adjustments to your shipment policy or changes in preferred carriers needs to be done.
Extraordinary Customer Experience Tip: Refund shipping fees if the order does not arrive on time.
Just tell me what is going on – whether its good or bad!
Every customer stated how important communication is. Some of the communications they are expecting are automated emails that include order acknowledgments and shipment confirmations. All clients also wanted early communication if an order is not going to be shipped on time or if it is going to ship with a back-order. Having software in place that can automatically notify both your staff and your customer that an order fulfillment issue is possible is excepted with today’s technology tools. This allows both you and your customer to identify possible alternatives.
Extraordinary Customer Experience Tip: Every order that is shipping late or short should be followed up with a personal phone call and a discussion about alternatives.