What is the first thought that comes to mind when you are looking for excellent customer service? I think of communication, regardless of whether I'm having someone mow my lawn, am purchasing an appliance or shipping thousands of items worth millions of dollars across the country. From that perspective, the foundation for any customer service strategy should be communication. How well we convey information to our customers establishes a foundation for the relationship we are going to have with them. If you approach how you take care of your shippers and brokers from the point of how you want to be treated when you're the customer, you can be assured your service will meet the mark. The Golden Rule is the real tenet for customer service.

Other reasons for providing exceptional customer service include: the cost of bringing a new shipper on board is 8 to 10 times that of retaining a current shipper; a dissatisfied shipper will tell many others of his dissatisfaction while a satisfied one will let you know he's pleased; but, most importantly, a raving fan will tell the whole world what a great motor carrier you are.

The best plan for developing a high-end customer service strategy is to create customer loyalty. The one thing more important than the cost of your hauling service to any shipper is the perceived and actual value they receive. Quality service is what will establish the highest value to the customer.

Here's the list of actions which need to be part of your customer service strategy:

  • Treat your employees and drivers as you want your customers treated. Human nature is such that the greater respect and consideration given to a person, the more likely they will reciprocate to others. So it is very important that you create a “Do as I do, not just as I say” approach to working with your employees and drivers.

  • Create a seamless communication link between all departments in your trucking company and your shippers; be sure everyone with a need to know is in the information loop. This means the dispatcher, the salesperson who sold the services, the truck driver, the safety director, and the motor carrier owner.

  • Make sure a customer with an unresolved problem is directed to an executive in the company who has the final word. This executive should be no more than the third person with which your customer speaks. Don't set up customer service “brick walls,” as this will create a dissatisfied shipper. Think how frustrating it is when you call to resolve an issue with a company if you have to repeat the same problem to each person up the customer service ladder. Each one is apologetic, but tells you it's company policy or to write a letter to a P.O. box without a specific person to whom to address it. You might spend an inordinate amount of time listening to scripted responses and apologies, but your issue is in the same place it was when you started. When you ask the customer service representative you're speaking with if you could talk to a manager or director, you're informed the manager will tell you the same thing. That's a “customer service brick wall,” and as a small motor carrier, you can't afford to build this wall.

  • Regularly contact the list of shippers who've used your motor carrier and ask them whether they've had any unresolved issues. While you could do this in an e-mail survey, calling those shippers directly will make a bigger impression on them. Person-to-person communication is always the winning hand.

  • Place the calmest, most cool-headed person in your office in charge of customer service. We all know there will be a shipper that can't be pleased, no matter if you had his cargo transported by the driver in his sleeper. If you have someone in your office who can deal with that shipper if he or she becomes obnoxious, rude or threatening, without becoming the same in return, you have superior customer service, even if it's only that one person.

What are the steps to building a solid customer service routine? Like any workable plan, you must begin with a solid strategy for communication. Make sure the wants and needs of the broker, shipper and receiver are known and transmit this information to operations and the driver. No matter how bad it seems, explain in an honest and truthful manner what happened.

The second part of this is, “Say what you'll do; do what you say.” Nothing can destroy a business relationship quicker than promising an action will occur — and then it doesn't. Don't promise more than you are capable of delivering.

Don't let the unexpected surprise the customer. There are always situations and events over which your company and the driver have no control. When one of these occurs and affects a load, immediately contact all parties. They may not be happy with what's happened, but it gives them opportunity and time to make necessary adjustments to their plan.

Anticipate potential problems and have solutions for these problems to be presented to your shipper if they should occur. Not much else can sour a shipper's attitude towards a motor carrier more than a preventable mishap. Although the shipper may never see the driver doing all the activities required for operating safely, the net result is the safe delivery of his shipment.

Establishing a solid customer service strategy of communication and being sure everyone within your company follows through in a consistent manner will help ensure your success. Unhappy customers will tell everyone what a lousy experience they had; satisfied customers will tell you what a great job you did; raving fans will tell everyone what a great operation you have. And this is what keeps your trailers filled to capacity with excellent-paying tonnage.

Improving customer service with clear communication adds value to your company; value adds revenue to the bottom line.

Contact Tim Brady through his web site at www.timothybrady.com.