Supply Chain's Role in Optimizing Customer Service

Customer service and supply chain are interwoven and crucial

Asian Businesswoman wearing headset in office
Customer service businesswoman wearing her headset in an office. Tom Merton / Getty Images

Introduction

Customer service is an important element for making a successful business. You can have a wonderful product, but without excellent customer service, the item will never be purchased. The customer interacts with a company through a number of channels and the level of service that is afforded the customer goes a long way to achieving customer satisfaction and in turn more orders for the company.

Many companies think that their only contact with the customer is through the sales and marketing staff, but this is no longer the case. The customer interacts with other departments such as shipping, quality control, accounts receivable, or a repairs service. Each of these departments must offer the same high level of customer service in order to maintain excellent customer satisfaction.

The customer will also interact with a company through its online presence, either a website where they can buy products, or check on shipping, or through social media. These instances also require that the customer receives the highest level of customer service.

Customer Service Strategy

A company has a corporate culture, whether that is steeped in tradition over a hundred years or a new technology start-up with a casual approach, and that defines how business is conducted with the customer.

No matter what the corporate culture, the focus must always be on the customer.

When determining how a company approaches customer service, they will often adopt a customer service strategy that is usually made up of a number of elements.

Communications 

Each customer wants to feel that they are your most important customer, so they need to be communicated with so that they never need to contact you because of the lack of information.

For example, if you are manufacturing and shipping an item to a customer, then the customer will want to know how far the item is along the manufacturing path, and then when it is shipped, they will require tracking information. If the customer has to call to find out information, they will be less satisfied as it is taking them time to call, and it is costing your company money for someone to spend time finding out the information for the customer.

With new technologies such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and social media websites, it is possible to communicate with the client electronically to inform them of new products, sales, or promotions that may interest them.

Convenience

For a customer, there is nothing worse than having to accommodate the limitations of your supplier. For example, if a customer is open from 7AM to 4PM, they do not want to accept deliveries after hours because a vendor can only deliver after 5PM.

Good customer service dictates that you will be available when it is convenient to the customer. If the customer wants a service call before they open for business then providing that is good customer service and will instill excellent customer satisfaction.

The convenience also should be found ​in your online presence.

A customer wants things to be convenient for them, so if they want to be able to review their order, check shipping and send a message, then they need that to be in one location and not spread over many pages, which is not as convenient and leads to poorer customer satisfaction.

Dependability

The customer expects items they wish to purchase to be in stock. Good customer service should aim to have items in stock, as well as providing other services, such as accurate ordering, accurate pricing, and believable delivery dates. 

Dependability also relates to a company's online presence.

If a company's website is not updated, shows the wrong prices, has dead links, or fails to process orders correctly, a customer will simply move on to the next vendor whose systems are dependable.

A good customer service strategy should ensure that the company is looking at all aspects of its business to give a customer a feeling of dependability.

You will know if you are optimizing your supply chain and customer service if your metrics tell you that your are delivering what your customers want, when your customers want it - and spending as little money as possible getting that done.  

This article has been updated by Gary W. Marion, Logistics and Supply Chain Expert.