Building materials companies are constantly looking for a competitive advantage. There is one very powerful tool that most of them overlook. That tool is customer service.
Here’s why customer service is such an opportunity.
I have noticed a trend as I work with manufacturers to identify reasons why their sales are not growing as fast as they would like.
Many of the building material manufacturers I work with tend to sell through dealers or distributors. As I begin my diagnosis of their situation, I frequently spend time interviewing these dealers and distributors.
Dealers and distributors tell me two things:
- They could sell more of more my clients’ products if they received better customer service.
- It’s hard for them to imagine switching to a competitor from a manufacturer with excellent customer service.
This is easy to understand if you put yourself in their shoes. They have many manufacturers to deal with as well as being understaffed and overworked.
For dealers who are already loyal to a manufacturer or brand, it is surprising how many times they tell me they could sell more of my client’s products with better customer service support.
Improved order processing, shipment information, pricing and problem resolution are at the top of their wish list. They tell me how they lose orders because they can’t get pricing fast enough or the product can’t be delivered in time.
They also tell me how frustrating it is to not know the status of a shipment. Will it actually arrive Wednesday at 3 pm or is that just a guess? What do they tell their customer?
It is very frustrating to them when there is a damaged shipment or missing pieces. Too often the reaction to damage is to contact the carrier and missing pieces will be shipped when they can.
The manufacturers with the best customer service gets these problems resolved. A replacement shipment will go out today. If there are missing pieces, the customer was alerted beforehand. The dealer tells me how they feel these manufacturers have their back.
Better Customer Service = More Sales
For dealers who aren’t especially loyal to one brand, they tell me that if one manufacturer had better customer service, they would gladly shift more business to that company.
When I ask dealers to tell me their top three to five manufacturers, they always define them in terms of customer service support. They aren’t a top supplier based on brand name, product quality, marketing programs or price, it’s always customer service.
My client’s have paid me to find the barriers to their sales growth and the solution is frequently right under their noses. They are usually expecting me to recommend some change in their marketing programs. When I tell them that improved customer service is the most important thing they can do, they don’t know what to do.
They can find the money to revise or develop a marketing program but they don’t know how to improve their customer service. That’s in a different department, headed by a different person who will get defensive when told they need to make improvements.
The measures of success are frequently not in alignment with the goal of sales growth. They are usually aimed at providing adequate customer service at the lowest possible cost.
How to use customer service to grow your sales.
- Blow it up and start over. Fire or reassign the current customer service leader. Appoint a new leader who has no experience in customer service.
- Study leaders in customer service like Zappos and Uline. They both sell products that are commodities and use customer service as a competitive advantage to grow their sales while making the competition less relevant. Take a tour of Zappo’s headquarters, in Las Vegas, and then enroll in one of their customer service courses.
- Establish your vision and metrics. With Zappos their measurement isn’t sales, but how happy their customer service people can make their customers. One goal should include being one of the top five suppliers for each of your dealers.
- Define a new standard of customer service. When the Burj Al Arab Jumeriah Hotel opened in Dubai they didn’t want to just be another 5 Star hotel. They established a new level, the 7 Star hotel! What would 7 Star customer service look like?
- A simple rule of thumb. Your customer service reps should visualize the initials MMFI tattooed across your customers foreheads. It stands for Make Me Feel Important! If you simply always Make the Customer Feel Important you will go a long way to being one of his suppliers and growing your sales.
- Empower your customer service reps. As most companies are consolidating and raising the level of decision making, do the opposite and enable your customer service reps to make decisions on their own. Let them give credits, ship overnight and more. Find ways to “Wow” your customers in unexpected ways.
While everyone else is using traditional and expected solutions in an effort gain a competitive advantage, you should explore becoming the customer service leader to grow your sales.
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Thanks for the following comments. I’d like to hear your feedback and suggestions on how to sell architects.
“Great article Mark, often not prioritized but very true.”
Penetron South Africa