As I read the two headline stories, “Rosanne Barr’s Racist Tweet” and “Tesla Model 3 Breakdowns,” I was shaken by the incredible power of feedback. Particularly impressive to me was how the car manufacturer giant, in a matter of days, took what it learned from Consumer Reports and quickly recovered — solidifying a spot on the list of good cars to buy. Of course, in today’s fast-moving world, by the time you read this, both news topics will most likely be forgotten.

The underlying message that I want to share with you is how, in distribution, it is possible to fail to act on feedback. For instance, are you listening to and learning from your customers? Are you acting on what they’re saying? Do you keep them posted on the actions being made to improve their well-being?

A sizable distributor we worked with in the Northeast was deservedly proud of its recent performance and fill rate. With nearly 20,000 active SKUs, the company was just a couple of points off of 100 percent. However, based on the following three-question survey I recommended to them, they received quite a shock.

1.         What do you like best about us?

2.         What do you like least about us?

3.         Select another supplier — one that’s not necessarily in our space that you use or are acquainted with — what might we learn from what they do that would help us be a better supplier to you?

First, the company discovered its customers were, in fact, not happy with the fill rate.

The frequency of the few undelivered small items not shipped, which I should add were not vital to the installation of the big ticket sale, was infinitely disproportional to the items’ value (cost).

So, what did the president do with this information? He implemented a substantial investment in additional inventory, which included the greater use of third-party wholesalers with direct shipments being made concurrently with the big order. Through the use of these three questions, they discovered many areas for improvement. The questions are simple to ask, yet few distributors follow through. Winners, however, do. Everyone in your organization, including the drivers, technical teams, customer service reps, inside sales, outside sales, and executive leadership, must ask these questions during every customer interaction.

Listen closely, thank them, and then share and consolidate the information internally. Provide insights of your learning back to your customer base. Reward the staff for the quality and quantity of their research — a restaurant gift voucher might just do the trick. Act on what you have learned, just like Disney or Tesla did, or you may find yourself in the headlines. As I said, these may be outdated news pieces by the time you put into action your own survey. However, utilizing this approach will truly help you become a customer-centric supply house in 2019 and beyond.