Customer Service in this country has been dying a slow, painful death over the last few decades. From poor communication to general rudeness, a lot of factors play into this, including the fact that buyers are more sophisticated and have higher expectations. Either way, the decline in customer satisfaction is real and evident in every industry. The transportation space is no exception.
In writing the business plan for http://www.revolutiontrucking.com, we spent an inordinate amount of time on defining both who our customers are and identifying ways to exceed their expectations. We’ve defined our customers more broadly to include three major stakeholders: employees (including drivers), shippers, and carriers. For the purposes of this paper we are going to focus solely on shippers.
Now that we’ve defined the “who”, we should examine our “touch points”. There is no average shipper when it comes to communication expectations. We have shippers we communicate with using phone, fax, email, text, and Skype. Regardless of the form, the basic principles of good customer service remain true. Share the right information, at the right time, in the right format, to the right people…all delivered in a friendly manner.
It’s really that simple. So, let’s look closer at each component.
When dealing with shippers, more than 80% of the time they provide us with incomplete information. Something is almost always missing. Whether it is weight, dimensions, commodity, pickup or delivery times something is either missing or incomplete. It’s our job to make sure we get all the information before there are any commitments. Sometimes this involves speaking with multiple people. We might have to reach out to the production manager or even the consignee/end customer. New employees often get frustrated and become short with the shipper employee tendering the load. This is absolutely the wrong approach. Sometimes in business you have to do “their” job for them. Don’t get upset and blame them, as there is usually a reasonable explanation. They could be understaffed. They might not know where to get the information or who to call. Be patient and help them think through it. Part of our job is to make their life easier and position them as the hero. I’ve always found you secure a lot more business when you can save the day. We are in the business of solving problems, and this is part of it.
Although it requires extra effort, nobody was ever penalized for over-communicating. From the first call to book the shipment through invoicing and collections, you should provide clear “touch points” to ensure the customer is always in the know. In addition, we know that 1 out of 5 shipments have some kind of issue. Although you don’t want to alarm the customer (particularly if you can resolve the challenge without impacting quality), if there are real issues that demand communication, we err on the side of communicating with the shipper. Now, you don’t want to show the customer “how the sausage is being made”, but at the same time you need to communicate anything that impacts quality so they can make any appropriate changes. The best example of this is if the delivery time needs to get pushed out and they have production or personnel that will be impacted. If the clock is running you can save the customer a lot of time/money or avoid penalties the sooner they are made aware of the situation.
So many times transportation providers will communicate electronically (usually email or text), taking the easy route for them, when really a phone call is much more appropriate. We actually promote the “belt and suspenders” approach. We will send off an email immediately to the right group, but then follow-up with a phone call. Why? Remember, people are busy. They might be in a meeting and not looking at emails. A phone call signals the importance. You also might want to call because you want to discuss the options based on the new information. Back and forth via email is slow and more difficult approach to problem solving.
More often than not, there are multiple parties on the shipper side that need to know about any changes. For example, the shipment might be an intra-plant move from their production facility in Chicago to their DC in De Moines. In this case, both locations need to be made aware of the current situation. Another situation is when the product is being delivered to an important customer. If the shipper allows it, make sure you communicate with the salesperson or head of customer service so they can take the appropriate action. I don’t know how many times as a salesperson I was walking into a customer location and their was a “burning issue” with their freight. One of the things we implemented in our CRM system is that whenever there was a service issue the appropriate salesperson received an automatic notice, usually via email. This allows the salesperson to be informed before walking into a customer meeting. This eliminates a lot of “song and dance”. Nothing is worse than when the customer has more information about an issue than the transportation provider.
It always amazes me how many people communicate information in a non-caring or ambivalent way. Worse yet, some folks are just flat out rude when delivering both positive and negative news. Because at Revolution we always value the relationship over the transaction, we view the shipper as part of our extended team. We communicate in a professional and courteous way. You can diffuse a lot of issues by being friendly. It doesn’t require any more energy, so do it. You will be surprised how many challenges become non-issues when you are friendly. Most shippers understand things happen that are out of your control. That said, we own the solution, so do it with a smile and the shipper will at a minimum respect your professionalism. A little bit of empathy never hurt either. Sometimes their job is on the line.
In conclusion, great customer service is the easiest part of the job. So why do so many transportation providers fall short when it comes to world-class communication? There are a number of factors that can play into it. Maybe they are having a bad day and they let it extend out beyond their four walls. They are afraid of upsetting the client or dealing with their wrath, so they drag their feet or withhold information. The customer is small relative to their other customers and they let their relative importance change the way they communicate. Or maybe they are just lazy and don’t want to use any energy to do it right. Regardless of the reason, your people need to always rise above their personal reasons, protect the company brand, and communicate the right information, at the right time, in the right format, to the right people…all delivered with a smile.
- James Adams
- CEO and Co-Founder
- Revolution Trucking, LLC
- (330) 975-4145