Gone now are the days when we all fell over work and it didn’t matter how we came about it. 2020 and 2021 were unique years that we’re unlikely to see again for a very long time.
Demand was so high that nothing else really mattered. Installers were tripping over sales, they were firing in orders at their fabricators and fabricators couldn’t order enough from their systems companies. Niceties and frills went out of the window as it was all about doing as much as you could handle at the time.
Now, with demand cooling significantly and the economic outlook appearing to be very tough for the next 18 months, customer service is roaring back into the picture and may well be the single most important USP to any business in the fenestration supply chain in the next two years.
Customer service front and centre
Winning new business is going to be a lot harder against a backdrop of spiralling living costs, high inflation and recession. We’re all going to need to learn how to sell and how to make the very most of our USPs.
One of the most important USPs we all have, no matter where you are in the supply chain is customer service. During the height of demand during the pandemic years, I felt as though the issue of customer service became secondary as the industry rushed to try and scale up to be able to simply produce and deliver products. The pressure on the sector to just produce enough raw material was a crisis in itself.
We’re no longer in that position, so we must now put customer service front and centre. Some companies managed to maintain high-quality customer service during the last two years. However, a quick glance on social media and you’ll see that some did not, and are still struggling to deliver the service their customers need.
Whether you’re an installer looking to win new business from a homeowner, or a fabricator looking to maintain your existing client base, how you deal with and approach all of your clients matters now more than ever. With more choice than ever before, and loyalty expendable, clients who are not happy with their current situation will quite easily look elsewhere to find what they need.
Especially on the B2B facet of our sector, the ability to move around, particularly when it comes to installers picking their suppliers, has never been easier. Although the number of fabricators is down in recent years, many fabricators now do more of everything, making the task of ordering everything from one place easier for installers. Those who are not happy could quite easily find what they need elsewhere and quickly.
So we all need to be making sure that we’re on hand when needed. But what does that actually look like?
Be there, but not there
Customer service isn’t about being in your client’s office every five minutes or having three-hour phone calls twice a week. Most of us are too busy for that and just want to get on with the job.
Sometimes the art of good customer service is just being there when you’re needed. If I am thinking with my installer cap on, good customer service to me is when our suppliers are on hand to solve a problem when one occurs. Or being on hand if I have a product question I don’t know the answer to.
Do I need them to ring me on a constant basis or be arranging weekly meetings? No. I’m too busy and they should be too busy as well. That sort of customer service isn’t productive, it takes up too much time and becomes an irritation rather than being helpful.
No one expects perfection either. We all live in the real world and in the real world, there are problems. Sometimes a frame will come with damage, or some items might be missing or delayed. But the art of good customer service is not in achieving perfection, but in how a problem is dealt with.
If an issue is ignored or not given the attention the client believes it warrants, then it begins to taint the relationship. However, if the supplier jumps on to whatever the problem is right away, and seeks a positive resolution for all parties as swiftly as possible, then in many cases that actually strengthens the relationship by impressing the affected parties.
It is those instances of problem resolution that can often decide whether a client stays with suppliers or decides to move on. And during the upcoming 18 months of economic downturn, it is the level of customer service that could make or break companies as we enter the decline.
So, make sure emails are answered. Pick up the phone when you’re needed. Be regular and clear in your communications at all times. Make a big deal about new products. Be there when you are needed, that’s often the only thing that people want.
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