When I started writing for Material Handling Wholesaler, I originally assumed the reader audience would be only those that have been in the material handling industry for many years like myself. However, what I did not think about was the new and younger workers entering our industry along with the workers that have recently pivoted to our industry for the first time. A mentor of mine once told me, ‘Be a student of the industry,’ so fittingly this month’s edition will be one that I hope serves both the mix of workers entering our industry for the first time along with those that have been in it for many years. Therefore, with that, I thought a good topic for this month would be The Customer Experience, a topic that everyone can relate to whether it be in the B2B or B2C space.
When explaining the customer experience touchpoints of our industry’s service and parts sales to those new or unfamiliar with the material handling space, I often point to parallels in the automotive industry. I ask them, ‘What OEM brand vehicle do you drive? What made you choose where you bought your vehicle? When your vehicle needs service, repair, or parts, how do you choose where to go or who to use for service and parts?’ Knowing they drive OEM brand ‘X’, they know there are multiple OEM dealers of that brand within their town, and they know that there are also many independent service providers and a variety of auto-part stores also to choose from. Understanding this framework makes it easy to translate to our industry when explaining after-sales service and parts for lift trucks and other industrial equipment. So what separates each of the service providers or parts resellers? One of the main differentiators is the customer experience provided by these providers.
Customer experience is not just a ‘buzz’ word in a B2B or B2C business strategy. In addition, it is not just a marketing or communications function. Simply defined, the customer experience refers to how your business engages with your customer throughout their journey of purchasing a product or service. The products or services your company sells to your customer and your people that provide the product or service from your business to your customer are the two primary interactions your customer has with your company. So, if the product or service that you are competing to sell in your market with your competitors is similar or the same (lift trucks, maintenance services, replacement parts, etc.) then the differentiating factor between the competitors for the interaction with the target customer are your people.
Everyone in your company, no matter the department, will have an effect on your customer experience. These interactions with the customer can be direct or indirect and not limited to only your customer-facing teams (i.e., sales, service, rental, and parts departments). Therefore, it is imperative for all employees within your organization to be engaged with the customer experience vision within the organization.
Let us focus on the customer experience regarding a service repair request. The way a customer can request service has evolved over time. Many organizations have deployed an omnichannel approach to the way a customer can request a service repair aside from the traditional phone call request. This omnichannel experience will include the traditional model but also, app-based options and online platforms.
For example, the use of the company website to submit a service request continues to be more prevalent in our industry. From the use of online chat, and online service request form submission, to the use of messaging apps that link a customer directly with their contact within a service department. As I described in a previous article regarding digital strategy, this truly does bring the B2C experience that your customer expects in their everyday life to the B2B world. What does this experience look like within your organization? Even if you are not equipped with these various mediums, how you interact with your customer from the time of the service request to the start and completion of the repair to the invoicing and collection of payment are all interactions that you can differentiate from the competition and provide an outstanding customer experience.
It is imperative that everyone in your organization values the customer and understands that a positive customer experience will keep your customers loyal to your organization and brand. They must also understand the correlation between the quality of after-sales service your organization provides is a factor in repeat business of service, parts, and equipment sales with your customer.
As I wrote in my December edition, I believe the lift truck industry is currently comprised of a few categories: Factory Stores, Independent distributors, Mega Dealers, and Third Party Service Providers. All four of these are competing for the same end-customer, so recognize that the difference in the quality of the service provided after-sale is the differentiating factor of your customer loyalty and future purchases. Nonetheless, it does not matter big or small, 10 employees or 100 employees, providing a great customer experience is important to the continued growth of your business. Although you may or may not have the resources to deploy a dedicated customer experience (CX) team or officer, your organization’s customer experience vision should be part of the fabric of your onboarding and training of new employees and continuing education for existing employees in all departments within your organization.
About the Author:
Chris Aiello is the Business Development Manager at TVH Parts Co. He has been in the equipment business for 16-plus years as a service manager, quality assurance manager, and business development manager. Chris now manages a national outside sales team selling replacement parts and accessories in various equipment markets such as material handling, equipment rental, and construction/earthmoving dealerships.