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Blog: Are Your Customers as Happy as They Could Be?

By Bridget McCrea

Every distributor likes to believe that it has a happy, satisfied customer base. After all, without a solid stable of repeat buyers, companies would not only have difficulties growing and expanding, but also just staying in business. The problem, says training and management consultant Gordon Veniard, is that unhappy customers don’t always voice their opinions and often leave suppliers behind without much of an explanation as to why.

“Clients usually aren’t focused on a single, specific, ‘got it wrong’ moment,” says Veniard, president of the UK-based consultancy theevenworks and author of How to Test and Improve Your Customer Service. “Instead, there’s just a general feeling of dissatisfaction.” Rather than complaining, customers simply go elsewhere, says Veniard, “leaving the distributor no idea as to why it has lost the customers and no chance of making things right with them.”

Distributors can avoid this trap by taking a multi-pronged approach to customer service. By combining tangible deliverables like product availability, order accuracy, and on-time delivery with intangible strategies like always going the extra mile and striving to develop long-term relationships with customers, electrical distributors can build the foundation of a solid, happy customer base.

By examining the difference between “transaction” and “value,” Veniard says electrical distributors can start to more effectively measure their own customers’ happiness levels. A customer who orders $50 worth of products, but who wasn’t happy with the service associated with that order, has effectively conducted a single, $50 transaction.

A happy client who orders the same product, however, may place another three orders over the next 10 years (for a total of $2,000) and then tell friends and colleagues about the great experience. If those associates follow a similar buying pattern, then the distributor has turned a single, $50 order into $6,000 in value. “How many distributors would look at the person spending the 50 bucks and actually see $6,000?” Veniard asks. “Not many.”

Ask Them What They Want
By conducting regular customer assessments, surveys, and even just informal chats, distributors can effectively gauge customer satisfaction levels and avoid the “get up and go” reaction that Veniard described. A customer satisfaction questionnaire sent out via email on a quarterly basis, for example, can help distributors get a sense of where they stand with their top-tier clients. “Just ask them,” he says, “and be prepared to hear both harsh and kind words about your company’s products, services, and support.”

On the questionnaire itself, Veniard says companies should give recipients a broad range (say, 1-5) of available answers and also allow them to answer open-ended questions in areas where they were clearly unsatisfied. If a customer gives the company a “2” (on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best) on satisfaction with a recent order, for example, give the respondent space to explain the low score.

Veniard says distributors should focus on more than just the lowest scores. The middle number – in this example, a 3 – can be a cop-out for customers who aren’t particularly happy but who also don’t want to criticize. These are clients who could be teetering on the edge and already out shopping around for new suppliers. “Pay particular attention to this ‘middle’ or uncertain ground,” Veniard, “knowing that these respondents fall into that category of customers who could pick up and go at any time without warning.”

Round out the survey with a number of questions that will evoke informative answers that can be used to create a more customer-friendly business approach. You can get customers to open up and share their insights by asking questions like, “How can we improve our delivery service?” versus “What do you think of our delivery service?” or “How good is our delivery service?”

“Give your customers the opportunity to share their honest reactions and feedback,” says Veniard, “and then use that information to hone your customer service organization.”

Striving for Excellence
Dirk Beveridge, the Chicago-based founder of the wholesale distribution summit UNleashWD, says in some cases distributors need to go back to the drawing board and figure out their key business drivers before they can truly make their customers happy. It goes without saying that customers want the right product at the right price and at the right time, says Beveridge, “but the biggest complaints that distributor sales reps usually hear revolve around operational excellence – or a lack thereof.”

According to Beveridge, attaining a high level of operational excellence requires a mindset that goes beyond examining what customers need and want. “Distributors have to ask themselves, why do these clients buy from us instead of the myriad other sources that they have to choose from?” Beveridge advises. “Once you have the answer to that question you can go beyond the transaction and figure out how to turn even more customers into raving fans who will go to war for your company.”

Emotional connections – particularly in today’s tumultuous, challenging business environment – also go a long way in ensuring customer happiness. “The overall stress level in the business world continues to increase,” says Beveridge. “The electrical distributor that puts itself out there by serving as a reliable, long-term solution to those issues is the one that will have the happiest, most loyal customers.”

Editor’s note: Come back to tedmag.com Friday for information on how to nurture those happy customers.

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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