When it comes to retail shopping, eCommerce has made the buying process exceptionally faster, Amazon Prime has mastered two-day shipping, and Amazon’s vast logistical and fulfillment operations have completely changed customer expectations.
Fulfilling 1.6 million orders on time every day, however, is hard enough when conditions are perfect. When they’re not, it can become a logistical nightmare. The global supply chain issues caused by COVID-19 are still ongoing and continue to be impacted by its variants. Throw in inclement weather and the holiday season, and late deliveries and empty shelves can lead to customer frustration and stress for everyone involved.
As a business scales and aims to meet such high demands, these are difficult issues to tackle. Whether it's lack of inventory or systems issues, here are some ways to handle the unexpected and maintain high rates of customer satisfaction.
Cross Team Communication
The first and most important step that any organization can take is being aligned. Beyond communication within a team, communicating across teams serves several purposes.
It can be said that customer service is that one department you don’t really hear about, until you do. One detrimental mistake a company can make is siloing their customer service department from other parts of the business. By keeping teams in communication with each other, however, it helps reduce customer frustration. For example, when a supply chain and fulfillment team communicates stock-outs, a customer service team can proactively perform outreach and let their customers know about order fulfillment status.
Together with brand management, the three can come together and create an action plan to give customers a realistic timeline, anticipate customer response, and have a game plan in place to de-escalate those that are disappointed. The last thing you want is for customers to be the ones letting you know about an issue. With regular touch-bases between teams, and avenues to communicate such issues, companies can truly practice the concept of “under promise, over deliver.”
Earning a new customer costs as much as five times more than keeping an existing one, and existing customers are more likely to buy than new ones. As customer service experience fuels brand loyalty, one bad customer experience could lead to losing them for life. So how do you maintain customer retention when you know their order will be delayed?
First, be honest and transparent, without oversharing what may be private internal processes. The customer does not need to know everything on the backend, but they can tell when they are being given the runaround. By apologizing, validating their concerns, and then taking ownership of the situation, you are in a much better position to work with that customer on a solution and adjust their expectations. Making excuses and approaching the situation with an “is what it is” attitude only further escalates the situation.
Second, not every customer is going to be placated even by the most honest, solution-driven explanation and apology. Anticipating this level of customer frustration and having strategies in place to de-escalate is key to saving those customers.
One strategy is team escalation to managerial support. Sometimes all a customer needs is validation from a manager or supervisor. Training your support team to listen for those implicit cues, and then having a manager step in, can go a long way in making customers feel heard.
At the end of the day, customers want to know that they are valued, and likewise, that the products and services you’re selling to them are also valuable.
Communication When Canceling
Under those conditions where your company truly cannot come through due to external circumstances, the primary goal should be to give your customers, first time or returning, the chance to experience the value of your products and services for themselves. This is where decision making on replacements for missed orders or discounts on future purchases is critical.
By making the customer a part of the solution, it helps the customer feel like their needs mean something to the company. When it becomes clear that on-time fulfillment is impossible, reaching out to customers to explain the situation and offering a possible workaround shows that their time and input is valued. For example, if you know a holiday order is going to be late, rather than just canceling everything, proactively reach out. By letting the customer know about the situation, they may be more receptive to a late order. Now, not only do you still receive their business, but the customer is less likely to feel like their needs were ignored.
As before, that team communication is key. Keep your team in the loop on any stockout or system issues. Align on customer-facing messaging, and know when to personalize. Align on solutions. Have those communication channels and processes in place not just for those escalations, but for trending issues your support team may be observing. In the midst of these pending crises, you may not always be able to get orders out on time, but there is always an opportunity to deliver world-class customer service.
Communication, Documentation, and Systems
Communication does not just happen between persons and teams, but between systems as well.
Having a support team in place that knows the internal operational systems, such as an ERP or order management system is invaluable. Alongside well thought out SOPs, issues that arise can be easily and efficiently investigated, tracked, and solved. In a context where the support team may be more siloed and lack access to supply chain and fulfillment systems, what may be a wider issue will only ever be addressed on an individual basis. Under these conditions, it is nearly impossible to be prepared for and take the necessary actions against widespread issues that affect hundreds, if not thousands, of customers. However, by having solid and scalable standardized processes, documentation within a knowledge base, proper training, and emphasizing the concept of ownership, you now have the opportunity to discern trends from individual problems, allowing you to take problem solving to the next level.
Proper documentation and data tracking may highlight issues that deserve immediate attention, or they may bring reality to a situation that was initially thought to be a true crisis. Either way, they are essential to consistent customer experience and satisfaction.
Communication at Every Level
Ultimately, communication is key. Whether it is from the bottom to top of your business verticals, or across the many teams and departments involved, having a customer-centric focus that keeps everyone in the loop provides a tremendous safeguard against losing business through poor communication.
At Boosted Commerce, our core values revolve around that principle. As a business scales up and fulfillment becomes more complicated, the systems we have in place help us manage the brands in our portfolio. If fulfillment crises are becoming more common, more difficult, or simply more exhausting, it might be time to explore an exit. Reach out to us to learn more.