3PL Customer Service Specialization
Defining customer service can be difficult. Measuring it is even harder. Sometimes ambiguous, customer service is more than being courteous and helpful, it's also about being knowledgeable. To solve complex problems, and to do so with speed, a 3PL must know a shipper's needs inside and out.
While intricacies of certain shippers and receivers will always be relevant, industry expertise is the most impactful way to positively affect customer service requirements. This is a growing concern as changes in consumer demands, technology expectations, and trucking regulations are pushing for a major shift in transportation toward niche specialization.
So don't settle for lackluster customer service. Today's marketplace is bursting with 3PLs to choose from. Make sure the one you work with sets internal standards that align their performance expectations to the expectations your customers have for you, and that specialize in the knowledge areas you need. Here are a few things to consider:
Look for a 3PL that has a service-first culture—one that looks beyond singular transactions to provide value to customers every day and live out its purpose in every interaction.
Determine whether that stated culture is truly driving decision making, or if it is just sales-speak. Are the people serving you empowered to meet your needs at all costs, or is wide profit margin the primary objective and performance measure? Companies that internally reward customer service are dedicated to making it a priority.
Also, find someone who values the same things you do. Without organizational alignment, partnership is just a word. If misaligned on core business ideals, it will be almost impossible to see eye-to-eye on customer service standards.
How do you define customer service excellence? This has to be an ongoing conversation between 3PLs and their customers. With so many different ways to outline, partners must ensure they are on the same page.
Honesty and trust are huge factors, and only providers that truly value partnership are motivating their staff to stick to these standards. Many 3PLs push their people to show growth at all costs, which can motivate their business development teams to say "yes" to all asks, even if they are unequipped to service a particular need. Honesty doesn't mean delivering the pricing and scope-of-work assessments that a customer wants to hear. It means providing achievable expectations on sustainable pricing to ensure the client's best interest is priority number one.
Integrity is also important. Look for service providers who are accountable to their own mistakes, and who proactively communicate potential issues. No matter the situation or which party is to blame, your 3PL should be about identifying resolutions, not avoiding ownership.
Equally important is evaluating the level of transparency in your transportation costs and visibility into performance metrics. Is your provider communicating with you enough? Do they have technology solutions in place that give you access to performance data? This could look like daily or hourly updates on order statuses, live tracking, not having to constantly ask for information, or availability of deeper KPIs.
Surveys are the most traditional way to evaluate customer service performance, but continually asking customers for feedback can get cumbersome.
For more regular measurement, 3PLs can leverage hard data. Once you communicate what customer service looks like, set well-defined metrics around those standards and regularly evaluate whether they are being met. Is average response time within the parameter set? Do representatives provide updates and proactive solutions for all possible issues? Do you have the levels of visibility you require?In today's transportation marketplace, demand that your service providers meet your customer service standards and know your business. Specialists who are service-oriented will consistently meet, and often exceed, your needs because the two of you will be working toward common goals. Just make sure to set those goals in advance and continually evaluate.