“If you wish to prosper, let your customer prosper... When people have learned this lesson, everyone will seek his individual welfare in the general welfare. Then jealousies between man and man, city and city, province and province, nation and nation, will no longer trouble the world.” -Claude Frédéric Bastiat
OK - THAT quote is definitely over the top! But the extremity of what Bastiat (b. 1801, d. 1850, a French economist, legislator, and writer who championed private property, free markets, and limited government) said is meant to highlight how important the relationship is between customer and service provider - a relationship that‘s becoming more and more critical every day in trucking.
Of course, many shippers in the freight world are focused solely on price (and lord knows, many shippers and receivers docks need electroshock-style customer service training for the way they treat truck drivers) so the value of courtesy, hard work, and diligence oft times get lost in the demand for low cost.
But not always. I talked to Gary Kelly, senior director of transportation and distribution for Schwan‘s Logistics, a few months ago about this subject after his firm - a division of the renowned Schwan Food Company, based in Marshall, Minn. - presented a series of awards to contracted carriers are rated for their on-time delivery, customer service, invoicing accuracy, damage free deliveries and technology.
K&J Trucking, Inc., of Sioux Falls, S.D., received the Gold Carrier of the Year award from Schwan, while Floyd Wild, Inc., of Marshall, Minn., received the Silver Carrier of the Year award and Triangle Trucking, Inc., of Salina, Kan., received the Bronze Carrier of the Year award. Doug Bradley Trucking, Inc., of Salina, Kan., received the People‘s Choice Award -- given for outstanding customer service.
(Pictured left to right: Gary Kelly; Jim Gray, Marketing Manager, K&J; Shelley Schipper, President, K&J; Joe Buysse, Carrier Relations Manager, Schwan's Logistics.)
“We are well aware of the high level of commitment and fully appreciate the hard work that our entire carrier base does day in and day out,” said Kelly. “Their hard work assures that our company and our customers are serviced in the most effective manner. These carriers that we have specially recognized and honored clearly represent the best of the best.”
It‘s this level of customer service that reaps rewards for truckers over the long term - but it doesn‘t happen without constant attention and training. Professor Jerry Osteryoung from the college of business at Florida State University has a few thoughts on the subject, gleaned not only from the classroom but from real life experience as well. Here‘s why he thinks ongoing customer training service is essential in the business world today:
“I went in for some routine tests at a doctor‘s office. My appointment was for nine in the morning, and I showed up at 8:45 a.m. (for some reason, I am always early). The receptionist told me to have a seat in the waiting area, and that they would call me when they were ready.
At 9:45 a.m., they still had not called me. I went up to the same receptionist and asked her when I would be called. It did not seem to matter to her that I had been waiting, but she begrudgingly said that she would check. She returned a short while later saying that one of the machines was down, and that they would get to me as soon as they could. When I asked her how much longer this would be, she said that she did not know.
During this entire exchange, the receptionist‘s attitude was completely uncaring, and she never did apologize for the wait. When I finally told her that I was leaving, she asked if I wanted to reschedule my appointment. Of course, frustrated by the experience, I did not want to at that time.
When I got back to my office and calmed down, I called the office manager at the doctor‘s office and explained the problem. She said she did not understand what had happened, as the front office had received training in how to deal with these types of issues. When I asked her how long ago this had been, she said she thought it was about a year and a half ago.
Evidently, the staff had received the proper training a long time ago, but they had since lapsed into old forms of habitual behavior. But if you are going to change behavior and maintain it for any length of time, you must have continual training to reinforce the wanted behavior. Great firms have customer service training every month to ensure that exceptional customer service stays in the forefront.
In my case, the receptionist should have noticed how long I was waiting and done something about it. Basically, she needed to take action instead of being a passive receptionist. The real problem was not that a machine was broken, but that no one told me about it or really seemed to care when I brought up the problem.
Obviously, this experience was awful, but with additional training, it could be easily fixed. Customer service is a critical function of all offices - medical as well as non-medical. It is an important way to keep your customers returning. Since it is roughly 15 times more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one, maintaining your customer base is vital. Once a customer walks in your door, it is the job of customer service to keep that customer happy and returning.
Every firm needs to have a continual customer service training program for all their employees that interact with customers. This training could use role-playing to simulate various problems and situations the staff might encounter. Having other staff observe the way an employee deals with a simulated situation is a powerful motivator for changed behavior. Customer service training could also cover the appropriate words to use when a customer is upset, current customer issues, and how to be proactive in customer service. That will ensure that you maintain great customer service.”
No doubt the carriers working for Schwan know more than a little about how that gets done.