With the many changes in the ways in which customers interact with their suppliers and vendors, none has been more profound than that of the Internet. The Internet has raised customer’s expectations, provided more intense competition as choices are more easily identified and raised service to new levels. This has required competitors to ratchet up service levels and this is particularly true for both Business to Business (B to B) and Business to Consumer (B to C) firms if they wish to survive, let along grow.
As one firm has stated, “Flexibility...quality, delivery to schedule at an acceptable cost are table stakes to get in the game”. Given the heightened expectations and wider range of options available to the customers, this may just be the threshold. Aftermarket support can be as critical, if not more so, than the factors that led to original selection. Repeat business may well rest on the post sale support, whether at the industrial or consumer level.
Service is key to success in either B to B of B to C. Part of this is supported by inventory accuracy which plays to the customer’s expectation as they need to know that their suppliers will be able to support their requirements in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost are as well. No acceptable service level or order fill rate can be achieved without the requisite computer inventory system.
Another differentiator that sets world class providers part from the “Also Rans” is the ability to deal with the unexpected in a timely and efficient approach. In many cases, parts and supplies can be ordered in such a manner as to not require extraordinary or “heroic” actions but there are those circumstances where the ability to respond quickly is a key element in over all customer satisfaction and a significant area where customer loyalty can be fostered or lost.
As one supplier stated: “You should make all efforts to keep every customer up and running. There should be a passion in the supplier that every customer should be up and running”.
It has been stated countless times in textbooks, articles and seminars, a firm must be “easy to do business with” and never is that more important than in the order cycle either by the World Wide Web or by telephone. Order processors must have instantaneous and highly accurate information on what inventory is available to ship so the customer knows what to except and can review their options, if necessary.
Incorrect inventory information can cost much more than the immediate sale. A leading company in both B to B and B to C has said correct inventory “is a given...99%+ accuracy...probably the most important”.
Once the order is filled, appropriate shipping options must be available with these choices offered to customer complete with cost and time to delivery forecasts. The Internet has led to an “instant gratification” syndrome that affects either the industrial purchaser or consumer. The customer must be allowed select that option which best serves their requirements.
With these options, it hardly needs to be said that real time order and shipment tracking is an essential component. Almost all transport firms provide such “real time” tracking and tracing, allowing the customer to monitor the shipment themselves. Of course, this will also expose any weakness on the supplier’s part such as missed ship dates.
Timely and accurate invoicing is an expectation and failure here could undo all your previous hard work. Billing errors complicate the transaction, take time to correct and can lead to a lasting bad impression.
If returns are part of your business, here again you must be “easy to do business with”. The simplest, least time consuming technique is best. Many firms include return instructions, labels and other items in the original shipment. Given carrier choices available today, using one which imposes the least burden on your customer is the best. Your computer system must be able to easily process returns or repair items, particularly where there is a credit or refund for the return to be issued to the customer. If the part is to be repaired and returned, it is imperative that the customer be given all pertinent details for their planning
In the opinion of many, good post-sale follow up is the second most important factor when accessing what constitutes success in the B to B or B to C business. Whether conducted by telephone, e-mail or surface mail, this last step insures that your customer knows you are concerned about how the transaction was viewed from their perspective.
All of the firms contacted in connection with this piece say, “Good systems are the key to being able to get information you need to access all phases of the order cycle quickly and accurately. The other key ingredient is great people...motivated to help their company be the best in their industry.” Those motivated people cannot make this happen without a robust and highly accurate support computer system and they can excel when given these tools.