Wholesaler-distributors should strive to set an expectation level and consistently perform to meet it. There will certainly be times when you are called upon to go above the service level, but this should be the exception versus the rule.
Exceeding the expectation level on a regular basis may slightly increase satisfaction, which, as noted, is shown to have little relationship to loyalty, but it also will increase your cost of providing service — a cost you may not recoup.

It also tends to reset the expectation level. For example, if your company promises two-day delivery and exceeds the expectation by delivering in one day two or three times in a row, a level of dissatisfaction will emerge when you deliver in two days on the subsequent order.

Exceeding the expectation level if the customer did not expect or request one-day delivery could also cause dissatisfaction due to the customer’s lack of space to store the delivery and readiness to use it. When using value-added services to provide differentiation, companies can’t succumb to the temptation to give the service away. Once a customer sees the value in the service, specifically in how it helps them achieve certain business outcomes, the customer will be willing to pay for it.

Several distributors interviewed for this study said their high level of customer satisfaction comes from “doing what we said we would do,” namely setting expectations and consistently meeting them. In anecdotal conversations with customers, the two leading causes of dissatisfaction are getting an order wrong and not meeting delivery expectations. If the customer is a restaurant or job site, such errors will quite often cause financial loss if it has no product to sell to its customers or must pay hourly employees who do not have the products to perform their jobs. The Harvard Business Review study cited earlier notes that these are the kinds of errors that do a great deal to undermine customer loyalty.

If not given the opportunity to share their opinions with their distributor directly, customers will still make their dissatisfaction known, whether by proactively searching for and moving to another provider or by staying in the relationship but sharing their negative opinions with others in their industry — including your customers, either directly or, increasingly, on social media.

The best way to avoid negative comments and reviews on these sites is, of course, to provide a consistent customer experience in the first place, but also to understand and respond quickly if a customer has a less than optimal experience. Disruptive companies will combine good survey work design, which initially may result in a lower NPS but allow them to uncover and work to resolve problems, with a proactive social media monitoring and response strategy powered by social media analytics.

A company intent on avoiding disruption or desiring to become a disruptor itself will invest in the kinds of customer analytics tools necessary to quantitatively measure its customers’ satisfaction with, and value to, their business. These tools are no longer optional for the distributor intent on remaining relevant in the industry.

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