How Distributors Can Work with Clients Through Delays Caused by Supply Chain Issues, Shipping Errors, and Inventory Shortages
In recent years we've seen a huge increase in delays and shortages due to supply chain issues associated with shortages across every area of shipping including drivers, fuel, and shipping containers. These shortages have caused prices to and demand for goods to shoot up, causing shipping bottlenecks at major ports around the planet.
This presents businesses large and small with new and challenging logistical problems that must be addressed to maintain customer satisfaction. Here's a look at how you can work with your clients to keep them happy through delivery delays and product inventory shortages.
Strategies for Working with Clients Through Delays
If you anticipate shipping or delivery delays stemming from supply chain issues or for any other reason, it's always smart to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to working with your clients and customers. While trying to avoid delays before they happen is the best solution, if a delay is inevitable it's best to get out in front of it and let the customer know as soon as possible. Here are some strategies to implement so you're prepared for any delays that may come up.
Plan Ahead Before Issues Arise
Have a plan in place for dealing with delays before they happen and make sure that your customer service representatives understand that plan. Knowing how to react and respond ahead of time takes a major step out of the process.
Your plan should include how to communicate with clients, what information to share with them, how to keep them updated on the status of their orders, and what to offer them to keep them happy.
Build a Relationship with a Dedicated Supplier
Having a good relationship with your suppliers is key. Ideally, you want to work with a dedicated supplier that is trustworthy, easy to communicate with, operates with a high degree of transparency, utilizes modern technology for ordering and fulfillment, and has deep inventory.
When there’s a delay you should be able to easily get someone on the phone that can explain why it is happening and how long it will take for the issue to be remedied. Then you are able to communicate accurately with your own customers and provide them with a quick and precise update.
Communicate with Customers Early, Often, and Honestly
It's imperative that you inform customers of any delays with their orders as early as possible so they can make any adjustments needed. You should also communicate through multiple touch points including phone, email, and text to ensure that they get the message.
When communicating with your customers, make sure to be honest, transparent, and compassionate. Provide them with clear updates and help them understand why the delay is happening. If possible, provide them with a new timeframe in which they can expect their order, but don't make up a date or provide a guarantee that you can't confidently deliver upon.
Lastly, make sure that each customer impacted by these delays can easily reach a member of your team for questions and troubleshooting. Nothing makes the customer experience go from bad to worse like having to wait on hold or send repeated emails regarding an order that's already late. Assign a single customer service representative to each customer that they can contact directly.
Listen to Your Customers to Understand Their Problems
In most cases, delays in shipping and delivery will cause issues for your customers and their businesses. Now is not the time to deflect or deny blame. At this point the customer experience has already not gone as the customer expected, so the best way to salvage it is by listening to your clients, understanding their problems, and working with them to reach a suitable resolution.
Try to understand why they need their order and what you can do to meet their needs. For instance, if a certain product they requested is out of stock, try offering them a comparable product at a discounted price. If they need something before you can provide it, look into expedited shipping, or research local providers in your customer’s area to see if they can assist.
Offer Complimentary Gifts or Discounts for Delays
Since the customer experience has not gone as anticipated, you need to make a conscious effort to salvage the relationship otherwise the customers impacted by these delays may take their business to a competitor in the future, even if the delays were not your fault. The best way to salvage this relationship is by offering your clients something of real value like a discount, store credit, gift card, or physical gift. Nothing says “we’re sorry, let us make it up to you” like a custom-made gift box!
Set Expectations and Send Progress Updates
The first thing to remember here is that you should never promise customers anything that you can't consistently provide. It's always better to under promise and over deliver than vice versa, so add a buffer day or two into your shipping estimates at the beginning. If all goes well and there are no hang ups along the way, you can send your client an updated delivery estimate.
You should also be sure to stablish clear expectations both from the beginning and throughout the buying journey. Provide your customers with consistent and timely updates on their order status and delivery date estimation. Here's an example of an order tracker that we use in-house to keep our customers updated.
Urge Customers to Place Orders Early
Depending on your business, there are likely certain times of the year when order volume is much higher than average. Try to remedy this issue by consistently messaging the importance of ordering early on your website, email marking, and social media channels. You can even include a sale or discount to motivate customers to place their orders early.
Keep an Updated Inventory on Your Website
Make sure that your product inventory is updated on your website, so you don’t run into any product shortage issues that could’ve easily been avoided. Create a deep inventory product collection so customers can shop with confidence. For products with lower inventory, leverage pre-order and “notify when available” functionality so you don’t lose out on as many orders due to inventory shortages.