How to Improve Customer Service, Your Most Important Competitive Differentiator

Find out how to improve customer service, and why service is your most important competitive differentiator. Read our blog for more wholesale business tips!

Glen Coates
March 31, 2015

For wholesalers selling into retail stores, getting products onto store shelves is all about differentiating themselves from the competition––never an easy task. At the end of the day, there really are only a few levers you can pull to differentiate your brand. Most start with product, as many brands are founded upon the idea of bringing something new to the market. But unless you’re Apple and can create back-to-back smash hits like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, it’s hard to build a long-term competitive moat around product alone. Imitators will inevitably come to yap at your heels. Other brands seek to compete on price, but as anyone in this business knows, it’s a slippery slope and a race to the bottom. It’s not a great long-term business strategy to play the margin game and try to cut your way into a market leadership position. Unless you can operate at Amazon scale, this strategy is basically death by a thousand paper cuts. With these limitations on product and price differentiation, the big opportunity here is clear: differentiate with customer service. To define “customer service” in this instance, we are talking about every experience your customer has with your brand––with your sales reps on the front lines, your back office customer service team, and your account managers. Let’s take a look at how to improve customer service with five key strategies that can translate into real dollars.

How to Improve Customer Service

1. Set Your Reps Up for Success

A sales rep’s job isn’t easy. They’re often expected to memorize payment terms or special pricing for each customer. They’re expected to know that customer’s past order history and most frequently ordered products. On top of that, they may be expected to also find out the stock levels for each product before walking into a sales meeting. Many sales managers like to talk about their sales reps’ shortcomings, but to be honest, if you’re not giving your reps a way to have this information at their fingertips, it’s really on you, not them. Your reps are having a bad experience because they feel like they don’t have what they need to succeed, and your customers are suffering because their reps can’t possibly serve them properly. Giving your reps mobile apps that put all of this information in their hands is a key element of setting them up to be successful.

2. Provide a Modern, Convenient Sales Experience

It’s important to remember that when your reps meet with your customers, they are the face of your brand; they’re your ambassadors. Arming them with great mobile tools makes your brand look like a modern partner to your customers, which makes your customers feel great about doing business with you, and makes your reps feel great about representing your brand. As we know, salespeople often operate on not much more than pure confidence, and you want them feeling confident with your brand at all times.

3. Replace Transactional Activity With Strategic Insights

B2B sales is complicated. Unlike B2C, every B2B customer is different. Historically, it’s been nearly impossible to provide real insights from customer-specific data inside the sales conversation, because there’s just too much of it. Today, mobile has allowed reps to walk into every conversation with reports and insights that transform them from an order-taker to a strategic partner. They can offer a retailer data-backed product recommendations specific to them, or share insights from other customers that they could benefit from.

4. Deliver Products Or Services As Quickly As Possible

This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many brands could make some simple tweaks to their process that significantly speeds up their order fulfillment process. One of the biggest benefits to using mobile technology to write orders is that the order can sync back to your back office immediately. If your customers can receive their order the day after it’s placed, you are going to stand out amongst a sea of competitors whose reps are manually sending orders back to the office and delaying shipments for a couple weeks. Every day you can shave off your ship time is another day that shelf isn’t empty in your customer’s store, and that’s helping sell-through for both of you.

5. Make Omni-channel Availability a Priority

Customers are increasingly expecting the convenience and 24/7 availability of eCommerce. We’ve been trained to expect this as consumers. While the face-to-face sales relationship is still a crucial part of the sales process for all the reasons we've already talked about above, giving your buyers the ability to place orders online whenever and wherever they want is a huge plus for customers. A recent Forrester study found that 75% of B2B buyers surveyed would buy again from a supplier with omni-channel B2B capabilities. This also includes providing a mobile optimized experience for your customers, whether that means a website that renders properly on a mobile device or the ability to purchase through a native mobile app. When meeting with your best customers, you might already be familiar with comments like, “I love my rep” or “I love Tim in the back office.” What this is getting at is the fact that your customers’ emotional experience of your brand is driven by their perception of how well you are serving them. Best of all, it’s something that your competitors can’t copy by ripping off your product or dropping their prices. By improving your customer service in a holistic way, you’ll retain more of your customers and win new business down the road. Other ideas on how to improve customer service? Let us know in the comments. For more wholesale business tips, subscribe to our blog to be notified about new posts!