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Customer Service in the Supply Chain Has Changed Drastically and The Candy Dish is Empty

customer service in the supply chain

customer service in the supply chain presentCustomer service in the supply chain today has changed from the convenience to the customer in the past, to the profitability and convenience of the selling organization. In the past, customer service was never outsourced to another country for profit. A customer wasn’t treated by a customer service rep they couldn’t understand, or background noise that made it impossible to hear what the agent is saying. You weren’t put on hold almost indefinitely without the rep checking back with you, frustrating the customer. These three (3) things: not understanding the customer service rep, impossible background noise and being put on hold for a long time were “no-no’s” in the past, and unfortunately, is the way of doing business today. These three (3) issues are a violations of good customer service. It is a negative paradigm shift. It doesn’t work for sustainable customer service in the supply chain...or customer retention.

Customer Service in the Supply Chain: Past vs. Present

Customer Service in the Past 

Once a common place courtesy, customer service is taking a back seat in many retail outlets and industries. In the past, customers were always welcomed with open arms. There was always a “welcome to our establishment” comment made to customers. Sales associates would do all they could to help you, the customer, in any way they could. It was more important than selling the goods themselves. Businesses were built on customer service foundations.

There was always a good morning, good afternoon or good evening. The first question was always, “How can I help you today?” Love thy customer was real. Old fashioned customer service sold the product. The management and sales associates would listen to their customers and make changes when appropriate to satisfy the customer.

Stores were neat and clean. No clothes were left cluttered on shelves. Nothing was dropped and left on the floor. The sales associate took your clothes and brought them to the dressing room for you to try on and never disturbed you. They concentrated on one customer at a time rather than trying to please everyone at the same time. People waited their turn to work with the sales associate. They would go out of their way to please you, the customer. There was always a warm “thank you” whether you purchased something or not. They would say, “come back and see us soon. We look forward to your next visit” If you purchased something, when you opened it at home there was a thank you card in the package with the name of the establishment and the sales associates’ name.

In a restaurant, you were welcomed warmly. You were asked where you wanted to sit. Service was excellent. You were asked constantly, “Does everything meet with your satisfaction?” If not, you were taken care of immediately. There was no waiting for any service. The manager would come around to insure all customers were happy. The chef would also take a tour of the restaurant and ask people how they enjoyed their meals. The quality was top notch. You would be happy to return to this restaurant.

Sure, there were exceptions, but those were few and far between. It was the culture to serve people. Nothing was forced. It was natural. Everyone in business truly went “beyond the customer’s expectations.”

Customer Service in The Present

Today, in my experience, you are fortunate to be treated well as a customer in retail or a restaurant. These “feel good” places are now the exception. I only go back to those few who offer excellent customer service and good quality.

Today, we “talk” about customer service, but really displaying genuine customer service in the supply chain is lacking. Today, people feel it is “extra work” to please the customer. “Do I really have to be pleasant to the customer all the time?” It is an exception, in my experience, to be treated well in restaurants, retail stores and industry.

The “candy dish” concept is gone. Very few places offer candy when you enter or leave their establishment. It is a symbol of caring for your customer. It is a nice thing to do. In the past, candy dishes were everywhere, and so was excellent customer service. Pamela Wilson, a marketing executive today says, “Keeping a “candy dish” with content available will help you attract, inform and retain customers to your physical location or website.” Eye candy is important. Try putting a candy dish on the side of your desk and keep it full. You will have many internal customers come by your desk to say hello...

Let’s look at today’s retail stores. Well known brands are going down hill big time. Racks are messy, visual presentation is non-existent and shops are not being kept up or filled with merchandise. It's sad to see the brand devalued. The brand is being devalued because the sales associates do not care. If they were customer service oriented, this would not happen.

Customer Service in the Supply Chain Starts at the Beginning and End of the Chain

In order to have successful customer service throughout the process of manufacturing, distribution, and the end result of a customer purchase, it must first start with top management focused and committed to holistic customer service in the supply chain. From procurement of supplies from suppliers through collaboration, all the way to the delivery of product to the customer in the retail store. CEOs of companies should be called Customer Experience Officers. Their yearly bonus should be based on improved customer service in the supply chain. The CEO filters customer service through the organization by giving key managers customer service key performance indicators (KPIs).

My daughter is a part-time sales associate. She has seen other sales associates simply wondering around the store aimlessly with customers needing help with merchandise or to buy the product. Sales associates call in saying that they can’t come in. The department manager is frustrated. This hurts customer service. The only person he can count on is my daughter to fill in at a moment’s notice.  He brings this to top management’s attention only to find out that if they have tenure they are “untouchables” and he feels that is wrong, and affects him, his department, and of course, customers and therefore, customer service in the supply chain. In the past, this kind of behavior was unacceptable. Attendance was typically 100%.

Applications of How to Improve Customer Service in the Supply Chain

Currently, professionally, we talk about the Voice of the Customer (VoC) as a way to increase customer service in the supply chain. We can’t just talk about it. We have to listen to the customer and make necessary changes to please them, improve our companies and increase profitability. Today, it is used in Six Sigma, but should be part of a company mission statement.

The “voice of the customer” is a process used to capture the requirements/feedback from the customer (internal or external) to provide the customers with the best in class service/product quality. This process is all about being proactive and constantly innovative to capture the changing requirements of the customers with time.

The “voice of the customer” is the term used to describe the stated and unstated needs or requirements of the customer. The voice of the customer can be captured in a variety of ways: Direct discussion or interviews, surveys, focus groups, customer specifications, observation, warranty data, field reports, complaint logs, etc. The point is: listen to your customer to improve your business and your customer service in the supply chain. Implement their comments by priority or Pareto’s 80/20 principle to improve your operation.

A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) module resides in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

customer service in the supply chain CRMCRM is a business strategy that enables businesses to:

  • Understand the customer
  • Retain customers through better customer experience
  • Attract new customers
  • Win new clients and contracts
  • Increase profitably
  • Decrease customer management costs

There is also CEM. Customer experience management (CEM) is the collection of processes a company uses to track, oversee and organize every interaction between a customer and the organization throughout the customer lifecycle. The goal of CEM is to optimize interactions from the customer's perspective and, as a result, foster customer loyalty.

The point of all of this? Let’s return to the old method of really feeling embracing customer service and not just saying and acknowledging it. Educate your people as to the importance of customer service as a top priority. Your customers give you profitability, pay your bills and give your employees their pay checks. Without customers there is no company.

Implement VOC and take customer comments seriously, to improve your operation. Listen to your customer. Be courteous on the phone. Don’t put your customer on hold indefinitely, check in with them frequently, if you have to put them on hold for a short while. Don’t force it: feel it. Use the CRM tool to improve customer service. Use social media to assist you in providing excellent customer service in the supply chain.

Cross the paradigm shift back to providing customer service that truly goes beyond your customer’s expectations. After all, what else is there, but excellent customer service for a company to survive? Hopefully, soon, we aren’t outsourcing customer service to frustrate our customers. This just doesn’t work. What works is the old phrase, “If you treat people (internal and external customers) well, profits will follow.”

Collaborate with your internal and external customers to improve your operation.

Fill the candy dish up again……….

Audience participation:What are your customer service in the supply chain thoughts and experiences? Do you use VoC, CRM, CEM, write thoughtful thank you notes, and treat your customers well on the phone/social media? Does your CEO embrace excellent customer service as a company mission? Do your personal key performance indicators (KPIs) include customer service statistics?

We welcome your comments: you are our customer after you read this blog article! We will listen to your comments and suggestions.

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Chuck Intrieri
Mr. Chuck Intrieri is a highly experienced and credentialed Supply Chain Management professional and is a recognized thought leader and innovator, primarily in the areas of Supply Chain Optimization, LEAN initiatives, Operations, Manufacturing, Third Party Logistics (3PL) International Purchasing/Importing, Inventory Management and Logistics, Strategic Sourcing, and Procurement Operations.
Chuck Intrieri
Chuck Intrieri

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