How Unhappy Customers Can Benefit Your Wholesale Distribution Business

Ilmie Sham Ku

Unhappy customers are inevitable when it comes to your wholesale distribution business...think about how many times you have been one yourself. It's bound to happen and it's a natural reaction to take negative feedback to heart. However, before you go into defense mode and potentially make the issue worse, the old saying "when life hands you lemons...." goes a long way. Unhappy customers are one of the biggest tools you have in your arsenal, especially if you have a small business that is in the early stages of growth. The winning formula is to extract the truths behind negative comments and analyze them to seek out opportunities to improve your product and services.

Mining negative comments for these truths will show you the path you need to take to improve your business. Here's a quick exercise. Think about a negative comment you've received about your business recently. How often does the same complaint arise? What truth is the customer trying to tell you, meaning what have they identified that is lacking from your product or services? Is this a reasonable or feasible request or suggestion? How are you going to solve the problem? And, have you addressed the comment and replied to the customer? While you can't be everything to everyone, these questions are important to ask especially when you start to see commonalities in issues.

When it comes to wholesale distribution businesses, there are numerous common complaints that are often related to inventory and shipping. Things like shipping errors, packing the wrong products, running out of stock etc. are all too common. If your business is experiencing similar problems, it means that you are lacking the proper technology and processes. More and more businesses are investing in technology to counteract negative feedback. Implementing a true distribution inventory software can not only improve visibility of your inventory and finances and reduce errors, but it also helps to meet your ultimate goal - customer satisfaction.

Below are examples of common customer complaints for wholesale distribution businesses and ways to improve your business and retain your customers with the right distribution inventory software.

"I was shipped the wrong products"

When dealing with large volumes of inventory in your wholesale distribution business, it is extremely difficult to keep track of items without proper technology. It is best practice to use barcode scanners for verification - implementing the right distribution inventory software with verification scanning allows employees to cross-check against pick slips to ensure they are packing the correct items.  When products are barcoded and entered into the system, employees can quickly view information such as product code and description stored within the database. And, the inventory count is automatically updated in the system once an item is picked so pickers will have always have access to real-time inventory information.

More robust barcode scanning functionality such as mobile scanning is paired with hardware such as iPhones and iPods to further automate this process.  Handheld picking allows users to itemize all products to pick and details how employees should go through the warehouse from top to bottom in the fastest order according to bin and shelf locations.

Now, when there are instances of an item missing from a shipment, that also reflects poorly on your business. Blue Link distribution inventory software provides a pack-to-container screen which is an additional layer of accuracy, especially when there are multiple orders going to the same ship-to location. Users can review items picked against the sales order on the same screen, view how many packing boxes and containers are added to the shipment, which items are already packed and which items are missing.

"Shipping is too slow and too expensive"  

A true distribution inventory software will not only be able to integrate with common shipping carriers such as FedEx and UPS but will also offer integration with rate shopping applications to help your business get the best shipping rates, and in turn, save costs for your customers. Once an order is packed and boxed, you can enter the size and weight of the shipment into the system which will automatically populate a list of available carrier services and their rates and estimated delivery times.

Keep in mind that fast delivery times also rely on how fast the order is picked and packed in the warehouse - the sooner orders leave the facility, the faster they'll reach your customers. For example, Blue Link distribution inventory software provides specific functionality for you to pick, pack and ship orders quickly and allows users to see requested ship dates to prioritize which orders get picked first. With the system's warehouse shipping functionality, once an order has been picked and packed, you can easily select the order to ship, rate shop with common carriers, enter shipment details, print the documents required to accompany the order, and mark the order as shipped.

"The item I want is not in stock"

This is one of the most common issues for wholesale distribution businesses without proper software and leads to unhappy customers and losing business to your competitors. Throughout the day, your business is moving large volumes of inventory in and out of your warehouse(s) and product is being allocated to orders, so the chance for stock running out is high. When you do run out of product, your business misses out on making sales which directly impacts your revenue and bottom line. Implementing a true distribution inventory software provides functionality to manage out of stock items such as reorder management. With Blue Link, reordering stock is automated – multiple methods are in place to determine order levels and quantities with auto-creation of purchase orders to ensure you always have the right amount of product in stock at all times.

"Poor customer service"

As technology evolves at lightning speed and brands leverage data to create personalized, value-add experiences, your customers' expectations of your interactions with them are sky high. According to Microsoft's 2018 State of Global Customer Service Report, 95% of those surveyed agreed that customer service is one of the top deciding factors influencing brand choice and loyalty. And, 61% of respondents have switched brands due to poor customer service. Your business cannot afford to not know your customers.

Having a system in place to track customer satisfaction over time so you can consistently give better service is critical to business success and longevity. More and more businesses are investing in technology to manage customer experiences. When choosing a distribution inventory software, make sure it has all-in-one functionality that not only provides accounting, inventory and warehouse management but also has the functionality to manage your customers and track their interactions with your business which is referred to as customer relationship management (CRM).

Going back to the Microsoft report, 75% of the respondents expect customer service representatives to have visibility into previous interactions and purchases. Customers ranked a representative’s lack of knowledge about their issue and having to repeat themselves as the two most frustrating aspects of a poor service experience. Having CRM functionality allows businesses to track communications with customers, keep up-to-date with their information such as shipping addresses, email addresses, phone numbers etc., log all communications with them, automate email responses etc.

Follow-up with customers!

Most of the time, customers might leave unhappy, but do not say a word about it to you. This is dangerous to your business because they have the power to spread negative criticism about your company to their network and online. It is critical to follow-up with customers not just when they purchase from you but on a periodical basis to ensure they are still happy with your products and services. Not abandoning them after the sale will make them feel appreciated and have their voices heard. Think of your own experiences being a customer.