“Make a customer, not a sale.” This is the first in a list of 40 inspiring quotes on customer service in a piece by Ekatarina Walter at Forbes, and a nice distillation of how businesses, both B2C and B2B, should be thinking about customer service.

In a world where companies like Amazon have built an empire positioned most prominently as the provider of excellent customer service, it’s clear that the happiness of your customers is something you can’t ignore.

We often focus on great customer service as a major differentiator for B2C brands, partially because, as consumers ourselves, it’s easier for us to relate to and understand the importance of making the individual satisfied to inspire a repeat purchase. However, as a B2B wholesale brand, if you aren’t thinking critically about customer service – specifically, how you can better service your retailers, you are making a big mistake.

The Costs of Bad Customer Service

There are some serious costs associated with bad customer service. A piece on the Xerox Digital Printing Blog from Howie Fenton, Senior Technology Consultant at The National Association of Printing Leadership, revealed that:

  1. It costs 6 times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing customer.
  2. If an issue is resolved on the spot, 95% of those customers will continue ordering.
  3. 97% of customers do not complain, even when they are unhappy.
  4. The average unhappy customer will remember for 23 years.
  5. For every complaint that’s lodged there are likely up to 25 more people with the same complaint.

The overall cost in the U.S. loss to businesses from bad customer experiences is $83 billion dollars. Check out this infographic from Entrepreneur for global data and more detail. There is less research out there on the exact costs related to bad customer service in the B2B world. As you know, though, as compared to the brand to consumer relationship, the wholesaler-retailer relationship is incredibly important. It’s built over time, and once it’s secured, it tends to last. On the other hand, it’s very difficult to regain the business of a retailer after you lose it. Once you’ve established good rapport with your retailers it’s definitely not time to coast, as fierce competition for shelf space means other brands are doing whatever it takes to gain an edge.

While great customer service as a differentiator as a B2B brand is starting to catch on, it’s nowhere near as pervasive as a strategy as in the B2C world. This means you have a great opportunity to one up your competition with a customer-centric strategy that proves to your retailers how much you value their business.

While we often think of great customer service as resolving negative issues promptly and efficiently as they arise, you should also be thinking about how your brand can proactively service your retailers to circumvent problems before they occur. With that in mind, here are 5 ways you can provide excellent proactive customer service to your retailers.

5 Great Customer Service Ideas for Wholesale Brands

1. Give retailers a modern experience that they recognize from their consumer life

At the end of the day, your retailers are comprised of human beings who have smartphones and tablets and buy things on eCommerce sites. You should sell to them using the technologies and experiences they recognize from their consumer life, for a few reasons.

First, and most obviously, it’s just a more efficient and pleasant experience. Whether it’s zooming in on HD product images from your line or placing an order through a B2B storefront portal, your buyers will appreciate an experience that is significantly more convenient than paper order writing.

Second, technology in our consumer life has given us speed and immediacy that we are now accustomed to, so you’re able to raise your retailer’s level of expectations. While they might be used to a two week (or more) order turnaround time with some of your competitors, you can use sales order management to pleasantly surprise them with shipments that arrive as early as the day after they place an order with you. More on this in #5.

2. Show up to sales appointments prepared

One of the most obvious ways to show you value your retailer’s time is by showing up prepared for sales appointments. If you know your buyer’s previous order history and favorite products, you can show up to the appointment with an order already drafted, or, if you’re using order management software, quickly duplicate a past order in their presence. This, in turn, gives you more time to:

  • Establish a personal rapport with the retailer, having a more focused (and less rushed) conversation about their feedback or needs
  • Walk the store, check out your shelf space, or do a more thorough physical inventory check
  • Suggest new products that they might like based on their usual preferences

3. Give retailers the option of placing orders on their own time

The wholesale ordering world is rapidly changing with the advent of B2B eCommerce. According to this article from Internet Retailer, buyers appreciate the option to buy wholesale goods online for numerous reasons, including:

  • Efficiency of interaction
  • Fear of high pressure sales tactics
  • Satisfaction of being in control
  • Ability to place orders according to the buyer’s (rather than the wholesaler’s) schedule

4. Communicate regularly with your retailers to keep them in the know

You should make it a point to keep your buyers informed of key events in their order process to better manage their expectations and timeline. Ideally, your buyers should be sent:

  • A detailed order confirmation of their items, (bonus points if it includes product images!) including total quantities ordered, item-based pricing and order total
  • A notification when the order has been sent to your back office for processing
  • A notification when the order has been confirmed
  • A notification when the order has been shipped and on its way; and
  • Updates on new product released and shipment arrivals

These notifications not only give your buyer’s a great deal of necessary information, but they also save you time, circumventing the need for calls and email check-ins about the status of their order.

5. Fulfill and ship orders as quickly as possible

Whether it’s using sales order management or tightening up your existing sales ordering process, find ways you can speed up order fulfillment and shipping without sacrificing order accuracy.

One way to achieve massive efficiency gains is to use sales order management software, where mobile orders your reps write in the field sync immediately to your back office. Your customer service team can then view, modify and then confirm the order, starting the fulfillment process straight away. Even if you aren’t using order management software, there are undoubtedly ways you can tighten up your existing process. For example, make a concerted effort to decrease the amount of time between the time a sales rep takes an order and it’s re-entered in your system.

Make B2B customer service a differentiator for your brand

Customer service in the wholesale sales world is of paramount importance, because the lifetime revenue of a retail account can be quite substantial. In other words, “Make a customer and make a lifetime of sales.”

How does your brand offer superior customer service to your B2B customers? Have you seen other costs of bad customer service?