Two Ways to Lose Customers at Your Import-Export Business

Bitter Lessons I Have Learned

Be timely and accurate on cross-border shipments.

A Good Import-Export Customer is Hard to Find

Customers are the lifeblood of an import-export operation. They are a financial asset. Yet, they are hard to find and even harder to keep and maintain. It takes a lot of time to earn the trust and business from a customer. When it comes to importing and exporting, due to distance alone there are specific problems that can occur that cause customers to go elsewhere for business.

 

Two Ways to Lose Customers

What are some of the ways in which we lose customers? Here, I outline two. These are by no means the only two problems that can cause customer to leave, but they are two that I have experienced at my own business or through a client’s. I’m sure you have your own horror story on how you’ve lost a customer. Send me an email, and I’ll reference yours when I add on to the list in a future article. 

1. No Place to Go With a Complaint

That’s one of the single greatest point of customer dissatisfaction is that they don’t have a place to go to complain. Think about it. A customer buys a bunch of products from your e-commerce site and doesn’t like how exorbitant the shipping fees are from Chicago to the UK. There may not be room for negotiation on lowering the shipping costs, but the customer feels compelled to email you anyway because she wants to express her feelings. She attempts to email you not to a direct email address or more general one at support@EYZcompanydotcom address, but what looks like a nifty little form you created on your site that takes 10 minutes to complete.

After the customer says what she wants to say, she hits the send button. She never gets a reply.  

Think you’ve lost that customer? You can count on it. Think she will tell a dozen others? You can be guaranteed she will. If she has a big Facebook following, all those people will find out about it as well.

So the real damage is even worse than it looks.

The Solution

Get early indicators of a problem in front of someone at your firm that is willing and capable of responding quickly to a customer’s gripe. Don’t take the easy route of analyzing a customer’s revenue and profitability quarterly because that won’t do it. When revenue drops from an overseas customer, it indicates more than “there must be a slowdown in demand.”  It indicates dissatisfaction. When that bell sounds off, it’s already too late because the customer most likely has already established a new relationship with a firm that ultimately could be your single greatest competitor. It also indicates that the optimal profit potential for that customer is long gone.

2. The Impact of Late or Inaccurate Cross-Border Shipments

If you are consistently late at delivering goods to an overseas customer, you will lose that customer and may not get paid. Late shipments cause all sorts of headaches. Inaccurate shipments — where you ship the wrong goods, or worse yet ship to the wrong customer, are flat-out nasty because customers end up receiving products they didn’t order. This can gobble up a customer’s valuable time in trying to remedy the situation and can also cause a revenue drop because customers in their local market no longer can buy a product they are used to having in stock.

If you are consistently late with delivering goods, your customer might accept your excuse the first time, look poorly on you the second time around and kiss you goodbye after the third late delivery. They will have caught on to your game, deciding to apply the three-strikes-you-are-out rule. Further, by then, they will have found another supplier that can deliver a similar product, better quality, lower price and on time. 

Many suppliers tie their method of collecting an overseas payment to the timeliness of a delivery and the accuracy of the right products ordered. When you blow a time schedule, you can blow the ability to collect payment against, for example, a letter of credit.

The Solution

If you make a mistake on a shipment, admit it promptly, apologize and fix it! You want to prevent the situation from ever occurring again.

Outline the steps you will take to reassure your customer not once, but thrice that their business is important to you — too important to lose — and that you will go to great lengths to make them whole again, happy and a satisfied lifetime customer.

Make Sure Your Customer Is Satisfied

When all is said and done with trying to resolve a problem with a customer, ask, “How did I do?” Be fearless in getting an answer. That’s what will keep a customer coming back for more business.  

Lastly, remember, it’s hard to lose a customer when shipments are accurate and on time 100 percent of the time. With those kinds of capabilities, you’ll be hard-pressed to lose a customer and you might also be able to charge a premium.