The customer is always right

Meeting performance targets while satisfying customer needs

February 28, 2011
by Shawn Casemore

I returned a sweater the other day to a well-known department store, a gift that unfortunately did not fit well (apparently I am smaller than I look). As I patiently waited in line to return the garment, I observed the tremendous amount of criticism the innocent customer service clerk absorbed from customer after customer, each unhappy with their experience to some level. I was amazed by the ease with which she handled their concerns, absorbing ignorant comments like a sponge, cheerfully resolving the concerns and promptly sending customers on their way.

Achieving the level of patience and skill necessary to deal effectively with customer concerns is an art that takes a great deal of time to perfect. Unfortunately, however, it is rarely noticed or recognized.

Interaction with customers is continuous in the field of supply chain management. But measurement of performance tends to focus on cost savings targets, product and service quality, and management of the supplier interface. Peak performance in supply chain management is the ability to meet these performance targets while satisfying—if not exceeding—the needs of the customer.

To exceed your customer’s needs, place focus on applying the following three techniques on an ongoing basis.

Build relationships

Remember that the customer is always right, even if they are completely wrong. The challenge is to work with customers to educate while striving to meet requests regardless of how unrealistic they may be. Through education and building relationships, the opportunity to meet both strategic targets and customer objectives can be achieved.

Response time
React when the customer calls; don’t wait until it is a convenient time for you. Requests from maintenance or operations often hinge on meeting production targets and fulfilling requests promptly to ensure downtime is minimized. To build a more meaningful metric, measure response and replenishment times and tie results to downtime avoidance.

Adjust your attitude
Despite dealing with irate or potentially ignorant customers, focus on providing customer service in the same patient fashion demonstrated by that department store service clerk. Any frustration directed at you is almost never personal, so focus on providing what is required, educate where possible, and move on to the next request. Avoiding a confrontation will defuse pent-up anger the customer may hold and will allow you to focus on building the relationship.

With multiple and sometimes unrealistic demands from both inside and outside of an organization, it can be difficult to maintain focus on the true goal—meeting the needs of a customer. But if you focus on building strong relationships, you just might find a shorter line at the customer returns counter.

Shawn Casemore serves on the board of directors for the Ontario Institute of the Purchasing Management Association of Canada (OIPMAC) and contributes to the advancement of the profession through his teaching with Humber College in the supply chain program. His experience in supply chain management includes leadership roles with companies such as Magna International, Arvin Meritor, N.C.R. and Bruce Power. E-mail Shawn with any questions or comments.

About this blog
From basic commodities to complex services, Purchasingb2b’s Procurement Value blog will provide you with best practices and tools to make your purchasing department more cost-effective, strategic and efficient. For more information on contributing to this blog, contact the editor.