Design Services To Meet Specific Customer Needs

Establishing an outside-in customer relationship in a disruptive marketplace requires wholesaler-distributors to understand their customers’ deepest needs and how they can meet those needs in a way that sets them apart from others that provide similar services. Of course, distributors have long focused on learning about their customers and meeting their needs, but these relationships were often premised on customers accepting the distributors’ established offerings and business processes.

For example, a company would sell either through dedicated sales representatives or allow direct ordering from a website, but what of the customer who wanted to combine the two methods? Forward-thinking companies quickly created a hybrid customer service model that combines the best of the personalized service with the ease of Internet ordering.

Distributors are in the business of meeting customer needs, even when customers don’t realize that they have a problem or issue that needs resolving. Wholesaler-distributors can become disrupters by working with existing customers to create new value-added offerings, even if the customer has not yet articulated or recognized a need.

Furthermore, companies must consistently deliver on the things that the customer prizes most, redesign business processes when necessary to meet evolving needs, and periodically remind customers about the value of their services lest those clients take them for granted. If not, the distributor-customer relationship may be disrupted when the customer is again swayed by other, seemingly more attractive, pricing offers.
Service level agreements and other measurements help the distributor continue to quantify its value to the customer, building up further levels of trust and perhaps opening the doors for deeper levels of service and collaboration.

Understanding Needs: A Deeper Dive

Wholesaler-distributors avoid disruption when they meet customers’ needs and expectations; but those expectations are not static. Customers develop new or subtly different needs and higher expectations as they continue the relationship with their distributor. Perhaps a customer begins to feel that next-day delivery isn’t sufficient to meet its needs; it wants same-day delivery and is willing to pay for it. Instead of directly addressing this with the distributor, the customer might search for another company that touts the service as part of its value proposition or brand. Keeping that customer’s business requires the current provider to have its finger on the pulse of its customer relationship or risk losing the client to a more proactive, disruptive company.

Surveys are an important tool in this process, offering a way to measure client satisfaction, determine whether you are meeting expectations, and sense emerging client needs. However, it is easy to misuse client satisfaction surveys, which can eventually become a way to pat oneself on the back and justify that everything is going smoothly.
Thriving companies use surveys to sense and rectify problems and issues in their customer relationships, and their surveys include questions or comment sections that let their customers express their views. The company that simply relies on achieving a high net promoter score (NPS) or insists to its customers that it “fails” if they give it less than a 10 on each question may miss the mark entirely, never getting at what is important in or missing from their connections with the customer. The NPS has value, of course; if a significant number of customers wouldn’t recommend the company to someone else, there clearly is a problem. But surveys can and should run deeper.

When a survey’s purpose is to uncover and address customer “dissatisfiers,” it has the additional result of raising the NPS or other satisfaction score; but the higher score is just an outcome, not the primary goal. Such surveys allow customers to express why they wouldn’t recommend the company, with the objective of fixing the problem.

This approach uses surveys that include specific questions about the company’s business processes, interactions with the customer, and how and whether the company helps the client meet its own objectives. For example, when asking the question, “Did the delivery arrive on time?” or “Was the delivery accurate and complete?” a yes or no answer will provide limited insight. If an opportunity is provided to comment on how a late or inaccurate delivery affected the customer, or how the on-time and accurate delivery benefitted the customer, the comments can yield valuable insights into customer needs and expectations.

When raising scores becomes the chief aim of a survey, companies may be tempted to remove the offending questions for which customers give lower scores. These companies are in danger of disruption as they stick their heads in the sand and conduct business as usual.

Furthermore, managers often assume that the more satisfied customers are, the more loyal they will be. In fact, A Harvard Business Review study of B2B and business-to-consumer customers found little relationship between satisfaction and loyalty. Twenty percent of “satisfied” customers in the study said they intended to leave the company in question while 28 percent of the “dissatisfied” customers said they intended to stay. In research conducted by HR Chally, 80 percent of customers who defected from their current supplier described themselves as satisfied or very satisfied.

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