Repairing the customer relationship after the supply chain crisis

In the midst of the crisis, the headlines say it all:

“…supply chain costs are rising…”

“…supply chain delays with no improvement in sight…”

“…increased disruptions in key supply chains…”

“…companies brace for more supply chain congestion…”

The sentences may be different, but the emphasis remains the same. Global supply chain issues have forced businesses and manufacturing companies to operate in survival mode, and their customers are taking advantage of this frustrating lull to re-examine their supplier needs.

These customers look to the future when, not if, the supply chain resolves. Are you?

Refocus from “here, now” towards a lasting customer relationship

There were tough choices to be made when the upheaval began. When the tide takes us from high to barely able to stay afloat, we do what we can “here, now”. The focus is on the things that keep our nose above the waterline as we lose sight of the periphery.

In other words, we do what we can to avoid going red, and the result is poor planning, inconsistent communication, and ultimately alienation from the customers we fail to serve.

It’s time to refocus from survival strategy to sustainability and growth. The supply chain will stabilize, the workforce will return and business will reopen, but things will not return to “normal”. Customers want and need more from their vendors, and they’ll flock to those who provide the best communication and shopping experience.

Build a lasting customer relationship now by refocusing the lens. Start with clear messaging that empowers customers to plan and implement omnichannel options for online purchases.

When the switch flips, where will the supply flow?

The predictions are that supply chain stabilization will happen like a flip switch: opening the flow for everyone at the same time. If you’ve taken this time to build your capabilities, are you sure there will be demand for these products once the switch goes?

Because while you build your capabilities, customers miss out. They see their biggest competitors getting the materials they are denied.

It should come as no surprise that customer behavior has changed and is constantly shifting towards a need for seamless messaging and omnichannel methods for businesses, according to research from McKinsey. And now these frustrated customers are ready to quickly switch providers.

Which means you’ll either take advantage of downtime to re-engage customers with digital tools, omnichannel offerings, and remote sales forces, or you’ll be left behind by those who do.

You have to look to the future and ask yourself: how are we going to go to market? How are we going to build a foundation for growth from the ashes? How are we going to catch and keep customers when the supply chain resolves?

More importantly, if you’re not in communication with your customers now, how do you know if they’re still your customers or if they’ve moved on to the competition?

How much do these lost customers cost?

It may be a business, but it’s personal

The decision to rely on the most influential and profitable customers is a good decision for the immediate situation, but the trade-off sends a message to everyone else who finds themselves without supply: you don’t matter to us, and you you never did.

Customers are currently feeling the supply chain crisis devastatingly, with small businesses being significantly disadvantaged. They can’t get assets, talent, or funding, and they lose the trust they had in their suppliers.

A look at Amazon or other major retailers shows them inventory, in stock and in large quantities. It’s an additional blow when a trusted supplier suddenly shuts up or only gives longer or vague deadlines.

For them, it’s personal. Even if you choose to do the right thing for your business, it is a choice. So how do you do what’s right for your business without alienating customers you can’t supply?

You keep them engaged. You prove they matter.

Post-Crisis Supply Chain Strategy Starts Yesterday

Let’s talk strategy. How are you going to repair the customer relationship today?

The strategy starts with engaging customers remotely and implementing or updating digital tools. Decide: When will this roll out and how much will it cost? How much does it cost not do these things?

Start managing existing customers, re-engage lost customers, and plan to attract new customers.

  • Talk to existing customers (even ones you can’t sell to today) to understand where they’re getting hardware now and who they’re getting it from.
  • Discuss changes to the product portfolio to let customers know what you will be making and what will be taken out of production.
  • Offer to help them make the transition to fill that need.
  • Talk about the part of the demand that is permanent versus temporary.
  • Re-engage lost customers – you once had a great product, and they can probably still use it, or something similar.
  • Attract new customers, but make sure you have a pipeline in place.
  • Create a membership environment that can reactively attract customers in all of these different ways.
  • Build an omnichannel infrastructure.
  • Implement a tried and tested integration when customers come back online to eliminate negative impact on operations.
  • Put a stake in the ground with honest delivery times. Let buyers make an informed decision. If the material should be available in 12 weeks, tell them 12 weeks and let them know. They can’t plan with “it should be here soon”.

It’s not too late to win back customers and strategize to win new ones after the supply chain is resolved. If you can recognize the problems, you can work to fix them. Heal your damaged customer relationships with open communications. Invest in the technology and talent that customers need and expect from you.

Earn their trust to regain their loyalty.

Mica Zuniga is the Chief Strategy Officer at Xenon Arc. She has held several leadership positions in business development, sales and marketing in the chemical industry. Zuniga has a strong passion for leading teams, creating meaningful change and advanced thinking related to increasing the value of typically underserved markets. Regularly recognized for contributing to the success of its customers, Zuniga has helped improve profitability and create exceptional value in these segments..

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Joseph P. Harris