The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a lot of change across the globe, including the way that we conduct business. With new obstacles being thrown into the path of customer satisfaction, it's now more important than ever before to ensure that your clients are left feeling reassured.
As we adapt to a more challenging business environment, it's crucial that we accommodate these changes when dealing with customers. Here are four ways you can keep your manufacturing customers happy through a global pandemic:
Be Transparent About Any Limitations:
Given the current restrictions, many engineering businesses have found themselves coming up against more limitations than they would usually face. This may include staff shortages due to furlough or sickness, or a lack of in-house capacity as OEMs look to reshore their supply chains to meet deadlines.
These limitations are affecting businesses spanning all industries; however, engineering and manufacturing are finding themselves up against unique challenges in the form of material shortages and longer lead times. Most manufacturing customers will be very understanding of these issues, but it's also extremely important that you're as transparent about them as possible. If a customer agrees to work with you on the understanding that their order may take longer than usual, then they will not be disappointed or dissatisfied with the service they receive.
A certain level of honesty is crucial within any business relationship, but under the current circumstances we've found ourselves in, it is now more important than ever before. Your customers will appreciate that you've been upfront with them, which illustrates your trustworthiness and credibility as a supplier.
READ: Buyer-Supplier Relationships - Why Honesty is the Best Policy
Understand Your Customers' Own Challenges:
Of course, your customers will also be facing challenges and limitations of their own, so it's always worthwhile to understand what these are. For instance, the dramatic increase in home working has reshaped the working day for many people and your customers may also be feeling the effects of staff shortages and supply chain disruption.
By understanding the issues facing your customers, you may be able to offer solutions that help to alleviate these challenges, while also presenting a number of new business opportunities. Maybe you have the capabilities to hold stock for your client on a KAN-BAN basis, or maybe you're able to offer capacity to jobs that they usually place with another supplier. These sorts of solutions serve to benefit both parties and you may be able to increase your involvement with a client on a long-term basis.
It's also worth noting that your clients may take longer to respond to you than usual. Staff furloughing has meant that many people are now juggling different roles, while home working has made communication more difficult. Therefore, it's better to ask any questions ahead of time so that they don't impact production and cause delays.
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Communicate Changes As Soon As Possible:
The current climate lends itself to last minute changes in schedule. Staff sickness and material shortages continue to have an impact on even the most organised businesses and many companies have come to expect the unexpected.
To ensure that your clients remain happy, suppliers should communicate any changes in production schedules to customers as soon as possible. This allows time for contingencies to be made wherever needed, in order to avoid disruption to the rest of the supply chain. Nobody likes to be kept in the dark about the status of their order and your customers will appreciate being given as much notice as possible when deviations to agreed delivery dates occur.
Even if an order is on track, it's always worth keeping your customers in the loop as their order progresses. A large amount of great customer service comes down to open communication; this is true no matter what the situation and even outside of a global pandemic.
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In tough times such as these, it can be all-too tempting to over-promise in order to win the work. As many buyers are currently stretched, you may get requests for lead times that are not feasible for your business to adhere to. In these instances, honesty is the best policy; it's always better to be open with your customers about what is realistically achievable within the time frames they require.
Over-promising can be more than your reputation is worth and will reduce the chances of a new customer coming back for more. As we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, it's especially prudent to be transparent about your capacity and capabilities to deliver on what the buyer requires - otherwise, you'll find yourself on a one-way path to unhappy customers and a lot of headaches.
Some customers will be more than happy to work with you on the basis of the lead times you offer and others will go elsewhere; either way, the customers you do win will be satisfied and your reputation as a reliable, dependable supplier will remain untarnished.
READ: How Can Small Engineering Companies Compete With Larger Outfits?