Repairing Customer Relations Post-Supply Chain Crisis
In the midst of a crisis, the headlines say it all:
“… supply chain costs rising …”
“… supply chain delays with no improvement in sight …”
“… increased disruptions in key supply chains …”
“… firms brace for more supply chain congestion …”
The phrases may be different, but the focus remains the same. Global supply chain woes have forced business and manufacturing organizations to operate in survival mode—and their customers are using this frustrating lull to reexamine their needs when it comes to suppliers.
Those customers are looking to the future of when—not if—the supply chain resolves. Are you?
Refocus From “Right Here, Right Now” to Sustainable Customer Relations
There were some hard choices to make when the upheaval began. When the tide takes us from riding high to barely able to stay afloat, we do what we can “right here, right now.” The focus narrows to the things that keep our noses above the waterline while we lose sight of the periphery.
In other words, we do what we can to keep from going red—and the result is poor planning, inconsistent communication, and ultimately the alienation of 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 won’t be back to “normal.” Customers want and need more from their suppliers, and they will flock to those who are providing the best communication and buying experience.
Build sustainable customer relations now by refocusing the lens. Start with clear messaging that allows customers to plan and implement omnichannel options for e-commerce purchasing.
When the Switch Flips, Where Will the Supply Flow?
Predictions are that supply chain stabilization will happen like a flipped switch: opening flow for everyone at the same time. If you have been taking this time to build capacity, are you sure there will be demand for those goods once the switch flips?
Because while you are building capacity, customers are going without. They see their bigger competitors getting the materials they are being denied.
It shouldn’t be surprising that customer behavior has changed to—and is consistently evolving toward—needing transparent messaging and omnichannel methods for business, according to research by McKinsey. And now, those frustrated customers are willing to change suppliers rapidly.
Which means you will either take advantage of the downtime to reengage customers with digital tools, omnichannel offerings, and remote sales forces, or be left behind by those that do.
You need to look ahead and ask: How are we going to go to market? How are we going to build a foundation for growth out of the ashes? How will we catch and keep customers when the supply chain resolves?
Most importantly, if you aren’t in communication with your customers now, how do you know if they are still your customers—or if they have turned to the competition?
How much do those lost customers cost?
It May Be Business, but It Feels Personal
The decision to lean into the most impactful and profitable customers is a good one for the immediate situation, but the tradeoff is sending a message to all the others going without supply: You don’t matter to us, and you never did.
Customers are feeling the supply chain crunch in devastating ways right now—with small businesses at a significant disadvantage. They can’t get goods, talent, or financing, and they are losing the confidence and trust they had in their suppliers.
One look on Amazon or other large retailers shows them inventory, in stock and in large quantity. It’s an added blow when a once-trusted supplier suddenly goes silent or is only giving lengthier or vague lead times.
To them, it feels personal. While you are choosing 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 the customers you can’t supply?
You keep them engaged. You prove that they matter.
Post-Supply-Chain-Crisis Strategy Begins Yesterday
Let’s talk strategy. How are you going to repair customer relations today?
Strategy starts with remote customer engagement and implementing or updating digital tools. Decide: When will this roll out and how much will it cost? How much does it cost not to do these things?
Begin to manage existing customers, reengage lost customers, and plan to attract new customers.
- Have conversations with existing customers (even with the ones you can’t sell to today) to understand where they are getting material now and who are they getting it from.
- Discuss product portfolio changes to inform customers what you will be making and what will be removed from production.
- Offer to help them make a transition to fill that need.
- Talk about how much of the demand is permanent versus temporary.
- Reengage lost customers—you once had a quality 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 buy-in environment that can reactively catch customers in all of these different ways.
- Build an omnichannel infrastructure.
- Have integration in place that is tested and proven to work for when customers come back online to eliminate negative impact on operations.
- Put a stake in the ground with honest lead times. Let buyers make an informed decision. If materials should be available in 12 weeks, tell them 12 weeks and keep them updated. They can’t plan with “it should be here soon.”
It’s not too late to win back customers and strategize ways to win new ones after the supply chain resolves. If you can recognize the issues, you can work to fix them. Heal your soured customer relations with open communications. Invest in the technology and talent that customers need and want from you.
Earn back their trust to win back their loyalty.
Mica Zuniga is the chief strategy officer at Xenon arc. She has held several leadership roles 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 value from typically under-served markets. Consistently recognized for her contribution to her clients’ success, Zuniga has helped improve profitability and drive exceptional value within these segments.