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How Industrial Distributors Can Improve the Customer Experience - Part I

In today's interconnected world, consumers are used to expecting what they want when they want it. Armed with search engines, empowered customers will quickly abandon your company for competitors only a mouse-click away.

Industrial distributors, who operate on slim profit margins, cannot afford to let their guard down, and creating customer loyalty through good customer experience is crucial to retaining key customers. 

Companies should start improving their service levels by accepting that customer experience isn’t defined by you. It’s based on how your organization is perceived by your customers when they do business with your company. 

Providing a great customer experience creates loyal customers, and unlike merely satisfied customers, loyal customers stick with you over the long term, even if they’re not getting the best price or an occasional mistake happens. 

Customer Service vs Customer Experience

Customer experience is described as the sum total of all the experiences and interactions that the customer has had from your business relationship. It is very different from “customer service” which is focused more on the way a service is delivered before, during and after the purchase. The two are tied very closely together and are somewhat interdependent.

In order to develop a successful customer experience strategy, you first have to have a vision, understand and relate to your customers, get real-time feedback, and create a customer experience framework for your staff.

Generally speaking, a customer’s first point of contact with a business is either via the phone, email or one-on-one interactions. This should be the first place to execute your customer experience improvement program. Find out where your touchpoints are in your organization and how long it takes for your customer service reps (CSRs) to get the needed information to them and how often their orders are filled accurately and on time.

How can industrial distributors go about providing a great customer experience?

  1. Address your customer's pain points - make sure you're providing the necessary information quickly and accurately in the initial interaction.
  2. Create a Positive Customer Experience - don't just meet their needs, be proactive in defining the customer experience.

How to Address Customer Pain Points

Buyers are busy and don't want to waste time obtaining product pricing or an order status. The more quickly and accurately you can serve your customer, the more successful you'll be at getting the sale. Think about how your CSRs have to do business in your organization….

  • Are they still hand writing orders on pads and calling the customer back with the information?
  • Do they have to run into the warehouse to get an accurate item count?
  • Are they losing opportunities because they cannot quickly provide substitutions or cross references?
  • Are they able to give customers up-to-date pricing while still on the phone?
  • Do they have information quickly available to negotiate pricing while on the phone?

Ideally, your ERP software system should be able to provide your CSRs 95% of the information the buyer needs while on the initial phone call.

A best-in-class industrial distributor should be able to do the following to address their customer's pain points:

Check price, availability, and order history on an item easily while on the phone.

You should be able to enter a quote while on the phone and never have to call a customer back with information on items that you regularly carry.

Easily pull up part numbers by several methods so you don't waste time searching or quoting the incorrect item.

For example if your buyer wants a specific Balluff pressure sensor and doesn't have the exact part number, you should be able to search for the part with multiple levels of identification to pull up the correct item quickly, e.g. Balluff / pressure sensor / 8,700 PSI / 1/4“ NPT. Or if you're looking for a particular fuel hose made by Kurt Hydraulics you should be able to search by: suction hose / 1200 psi / Kurt Hydraulics.

Easily see the items most often ordered by that customer by date range and/or location.

The ability to see a customer's most often ordered items can help speed up the order process, especially if you have a new buyer that may not be as familiar with the part number. This also presents opportunity for cross selling.

Easily check all locations for inventory, including inventory-sharing services like WarehouseTWO or DistraNet, from one screen.

You may have the inventory at another location and the ability to check that while on the phone with the customer is crucial to making the sale. Having an ERP system integrated with WarehouseTWO allows you to check stock without leaving your inquiry screen.

Conduct pricing negotiations while on the phone.

You should be able to view and change different pricing factors and see the profit margins while in the quote entry screen,  allowing you to manually adjust the pricing until you get the margin, discount, etc. that you want without having to call the customer back. This is especially helpful if you have to offer a substitute part.

Easily offer part substitutions while on the phone with the customer.

If you don't have the part in they want, you can offer the substitute that may work for their needs. You should be able to switch out parts on complex assemblies on the fly, recalculate the price, and save as a new BOM version while still on the phone with the customer.

Be able to trust the inventory counts in the system, so you don't put the customer on hold to run back to check the warehouse.

If an item is sold in packs of 10 or in lengths on reels, you should be able to trust that the system count is correct and not have to put the customer on hold to double check the count.

Easily capture critical information quickly for customer specific requirements.

Distributors that sell to the oil and gas industry have to note not only where the order is being shipped to but what rig the end product will be used. Your ERP system should allow you to note this information in the initial phone call.

Easily provide tracking information.

A CSR should be able to provide the tracking information for UPS & FedEx order shipments while on the phone with the customer instead of having to call them back.

Provide consistent pricing standards.

A customer shouldn't call in and get a different price for an item depending on which sales person or CSR they talk to. Having inconsistent pricing standards within your company creates customer distrust and unnecessary strife among your staff. A state of the art ERP system will prevent this from happening.

Provide information and ordering ability online through e-Commerce integration

Your ERP should be integrated to an e-Commerce solution designed for industrial distributors like Aldrich Web Solutions WebAlliance for TrulinX. This solution provides your customers a way to check orders and invoices, plus order items without having to call in, allowing you to service your customers better and faster.

 

 

Select the Right ERP Software Partner to Improve Your Customer Experience

TrulinX ERP business management software was created specifically for industrial distributors and has the features your CSRs need to service customers quickly and accurately, thereby eliminating their pain points and generating customer loyalty. For more information on TrulinX, contact us or request a demo.

Tune in next week for Part II - How to Create a Positive Customer Experience

Author

Nina Baker

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Tribute, Inc. is a provider of ERP business management software for distributors and system integrators in the fluid power, hose, motion control, automation, fluid handling & pump industry who provide value-added services.