December 2011 | Commentary | Checking In

Delivering the Final Smile

Tags: Customer Service, Last Mile Delivery

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

It's dangerous to take a "hands-off" approach to customer service. That's the conclusion of a recent CAPS Research report authored by Mei Li, PhD at Lehigh University. Relying only on carriers and service providers to drive the final customer service experience, warns Dr. Li, puts you at risk of having service failures that can trash your other customer service efforts.

We are operating in an era of having to do more with less, and sometimes it's tempting to rely completely on our service partners to carry the standard. If you do, you'll likely get a painful reminder that customer service is only as good as its weakest link.

I have my own weakest-link customer service story to share. Fifteen years ago, I wrote about a major department store's customer service failure on a bed delivery. My store experience was excellent—knowledgeable salesman, great selection, good prices, and a promise of fast delivery.

But because the store was not involved in customer delivery, and relied solely on its warehouse and carrier partners, my final-mile nightmare destroyed the in-store experience and the sale. There was zero customer service oversight or involvement. True, that was before we had smartphones or email, but we did have telephones.

Fast forward 15 years, and I am buying a chair. Same in-store customer service with Joe, a knowledgeable, helpful, friendly, and funny salesman. A great sale price. Delivery? One month. Why? Because the chair comes from North Carolina—low inventory, build to order. I can relate to that.

But I am compelled to share with Joe my bed delivery nightmare. After ribbing me about holding a 15-year grudge, Joe assures me that this time it will be different. If I bought stuff more often, he notes, I would know they are all over home delivery now.

So I buy the chair and mark my calendar one month out. Two weeks later, I get a phone call that the store is ready to deliver the chair—two weeks early—with a choice of delivery times at my convenience! And get this, they say once they commit, they will hit a 30-minute delivery window. This does not happen in New York, where traffic materializes instantaneously.

On the morning of delivery, I get a cellphone call from the truck driver: "We're on the way; text me if you need me." Two hours later, he calls to confirm the delivery time. Then a final call: "We'll be there in 15 minutes."

And they were. The next day, I received a post-delivery call and email from the store to make sure I was satisfied with the experience.

Sure, it's easy to outsource your customer service. But the use of new technology and tools—email, cellphones, social media—make it even easier to stay involved, from order to final-mile delivery, no matter what the shipment.

I'll be talking about my great customer service experience for the next 15 years. Wouldn't you want your customers to say the same?