Do you say, “I want to be the biggest, baddest, most profitable wholesale supply house in my market,” but you’re unsure how to do it? The answer is simple, but the execution and implementation are what separate the winners from the losers. The answer to the big question of how to grow is simply to exceed your customers’ expectations. It sounds easy, but the fact is that it isn’t, and many companies today fail to come close to meeting customers’ needs, let alone surpassing their expectations.
The truth is that, regardless of the market you are in, most of the supplies you sell are available from competitors; even worse, people can purchase them online. You must know exactly why your customers buy from you. If they buy because you have the lowest price in town, there is a good chance you will soon be out of business. You need to ensure that your customers’ buying experience is superior and the service is flawless.
Successful wholesalers constantly discuss how to accomplish this task. Ask employees to describe a situation in their own personal lives where they have experienced outstanding service. You should ask your employees, “How did did that make them feel? Did they do business again with that company? Did they recommend the business to friends and family?” I have asked my sales staff many times to describe situations when they have been able to wow their customers. It is good for your staff to relive and relish their victories. You will also discover your sales staff will get more job satisfaction if they can wow their customers. It is amazing how providing outstanding service will actually raise your company’s morale; however, if you fail to deliver great service, you will have both upset customers and employees.
I love it when I receive emails praising me for my service or how much I mean to a customer. It makes me feel better about the company I work for and about myself. If you’re fortunate enough to receive such praise, you should share it with your staff, showing them what it is you’re striving for and how it’s possible to achieve.
The culture of your organization has to change, and the focus has to be on providing superior service. The drive has to come from the ownership and top management personnel, because if the owner doesn’t regularly stress to his key people the importance of exceeding customers’ expectations, the chances are slim that your front-line people will look for ways to provide top-shelf, premium service. Customer service needs to be seriously discussed with your counter and warehouse personnel once a week in a group setting. You might be discussing the mechanics of providing flawless service, like how it’s important to take care of your back order reports or stock fulfillment, but the manager should always make sure to tie the task to a customer’s buying experience. You must correlate the task you completed to the customer’s experience. Discuss this with your staff so they can understanding the relationship between the action on behalf of customers and their appreciation of it. The correlation of tasks to be completed to your customers’ experience must be discussed so your staff comprehends why these duties are so important.
You need to find out exactly what your customers need or want from a supply house. Communication is key. You need to talk not only to your employees but also to your customers. Your goal of providing first-rate service should not be a secret. It’s amazing what people don’t ask. Suppose you went to your top 25 customers and said, “We intend to exceed your expectations as a wholesaler — where are we exceeding those expectations, and where are we falling short?” Your customers will guide you to what’s most important or valuable to them. Customers value different things, such as early-morning deliveries, topic-specific training, express checkout lanes or technical hotlines for service technicians. Regardless of their needs, it’s up to you to provide for them.
The worst thing you can do is ask customers what they want or need and then not do anything about it. This will leave a customer with a bad taste in their mouth. If you ask for feedback and receive it, you must follow through or you run the risk of the customer viewing you as insincere or unprofessional.
My staff has heard me say repeatedly that we must provide same-day or next-day service. If you need a quote or product, it is our duty to fulfill that request as soon as possible, which means same-day service. If that’s not possible, then we communicate with our customers, letting them know why we, unfortunately, can’t have what they want when they need it.
The key is to manage expectations. If the customer requests a built-to-order part, plan on a three-to four-week lead time. I have programmed my staff to check on the status of the part after the second week to ensure the lead time estimated is still correct. It is crucial to then let the customer know we have not forgotten about their item and that are, in fact, checking on the status of the part as we are trying to speed up the timeline in an effort to get it to them ahead of schedule. The customer appreciates the update and is reassured that you are committed to procuring their part.
The main point is that what you have to sell is your service, not your parts. If you mistakenly think it is your inventory or a product that’s keeping your customers coming back, you will painfully discover that you are wrong. Your competition has similar inventory, and they might provide more valuable training or have a VIP hotline—and before long, your customers will become your competition. Premium service is king, but it is truly amazing how few companies realize this or actually care enough to do something to improve the servicing of their customer base.
If you can master customer service, your business will grow, and you will become the winner you have always wanted to be.