December 2009 | Commentary | Checking In

Less Lip Service, More Customer Service

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Felecia Stratton is the editor of Inbound Logistics magazine.

When times are good, everyone says they are focused on customer service, but admittedly some of that is lip service. When times are bad, are carriers and service providers truly focused on providing you good customer service, or are they cutting customer service corners? Are you as concerned about customer service these days, or is it all just about price?

When I met with carriers, logistics service providers, and Inbound Logistics readers at two recent industry conferences, I heard repeatedly that in a challenging economy, customer service grows exponentially more important. It's too expensive for service providers to acquire new customers if they lose your business. As one provider told me, "It's time to hug our customers."

Carriers and service providers are showing the love in different ways.

Some are increasing their use of shipment sharing. Even though they have talked about it in the past, service providers say in a down economy they are more willing to share to provide the best customer service. Others are continuing to invest in technology, despite tough times, to help them sort out all the variables.

And logistics partners are more actively managing vendors on shared distribution regimes. They are also more willing to invest in assets to get a project off the ground, such as strategically placed new facilities and project-specific technologies. And many are much more willing to own inventory and collaborate with shippers/vendors in their quest to provide great customer service.

It's not purely economic reasons driving you to demand a higher level of customer service from your carriers and service providers. As many 3PLs told me, today's business logistics managers are smarter and more sophisticated. You know more about technology and what you want it to accomplish. You're more aware of strategic concepts, such as managing demand, and insist on the service needed to accomplish those goals.

But customer service is not a one-way street. Getting good customer service from your carriers and service providers enables you to provide good service to your customers, as you'll learn in this month's cover article, The Customer Service Connection (page 22). We call this the customer service supply chain, where buyers of your products can only get good customer service if you have received it from all parties in your value chain.

Carriers and service providers that demonstrate their commitment to customer service through these initiatives and others need your support and collaboration. If they want to hug you, it's time to hug them back by providing them access to information they need to keep their customer service commitments.

Then it will be more about customer service than lip service.

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