As a result of some things going on in my life outside the office, I've been reflecting of late on the state of customer service in American business. My current, and admittedly jaundiced, view is that it ain't what it's cracked up to be.
For the last decade, we've heard time and again that the key to competitive advantage is meeting and exceeding customer expectations. And it undoubtedly is. I say that for two reasons: First, it's not easy. Second, too many companies fail to live up to their own promises.
Here's an example: Several years ago, my wife attempted to surprise me by buying a rocking chair. She went to the retailer's showroom, selected the chair, elicited a firm guarantee that it would arrive in time for Christmas, and paid in full with cash. Well, you can guess the rest: The chair was not delivered on time, she was not notified in time to buy the chair elsewhere and she was forced to make several trips simply to get her money back. Needless to say, that store lost not only a sale, but also a customer.
We thought of that again recently.When moving to a new house, we ran into problems with what should have been the simplest of tasks: disconnecting and reconnecting telephone service and establishing cable and Internet service in the new house.
Yes, I'm on a bit of a rant here, but this is all connected to logistics and supply chain management. The premise of good customer service is simple enough: Say what you'll do and do what you say. But the execution in any big organization is anything but simple: it requires careful collaboration all through the supply chain, superb inventory management, and close coordination between order management and fulfillment.
Still, it pays off. To return to my story, shortly after my wife got her money back, she called L.L. Bean and ordered a rocking chair. A person answered the phone, took the order and asked when my wife wanted the chair delivered. Skeptical at the time, she nevertheless made a point of being at home when the delivery was due and was delighted when the truck arrived a few minutes early. The company had won a loyal customer. No, not won. Earned—because the order taker knew the inventory, the DC got and processed the order on time, and the carrier met its commitment.
We've all heard debates about whether logistics and distribution are core competencies. I'd suggest that if you expect to please and keep your customers, there's no doubt about it.