A closer focus on enhancing the customer experience was once exclusive to B2C markets. Retailers would work to create a more pleasant, convenient and enjoyable buying experience from start to finish for their customers. More easily accessible information behind products, better deals and quick purchase options were all tools to enable customers to make more informed, smoother purchasing decisions.
This trend has grown to include B2B relationships over the past few decades; Businesses expect a similar customer experience to individual consumers. Lumoa revealed the enormous statistic behind this growing demand, with “At least 80% of B2B buyers are not only looking for but expect a buying experience like that of a B2C customer. (Lumoa, 2019)” (1)
Focusing our lens onto the food and beverage industry, and distributors and wholesalers in particular, this transition means suppliers are, and must, look for new ways to continuously improve the experience of their customers.
A statistic to keep in mind is that “86% of buyers are willing to pay more for great customer experience. (PWC, 2018) ” (1)
How are Distributors improving the customer experience?
Driving excellent customer service are a number of innovations, some of which have been available for years but are now becoming widely adopted, while others have only become possible with recent innovations and increased accessibility to technologies.
Mirroring their retail counterparts, Wholesalers are becoming increasingly focused on e-commerce stores and self-service portals for their customers.
This change was undoubtedly accelerated by the disruptions we have experienced over the last 17 months with COVID-19. With face-to-face interactions halting and businesses operating at lower capacities, the ability to let customers place, receive updates on, and manage their own orders became a necessity for those companies that continued to operate.
Working in synchrony with existing company websites, these self-service websites branch off from those existing spaces, allowing time spent on speaking with customers and handling their orders and enquiries could be dramatically reduced, with efforts being re-invested elsewhere in the operation.
Most larger wholesalers had already implemented these changes, but restrictions encouraged a more widespread adoption, with these systems now playing a permanent, integral part in the customer experience.
They are incredibly convenient and allow the customer to review their orders, make adjustments and track their deliveries at a time that suits them, without the hassle of having to speak with an actual member of the team.
The best way to retain customer loyalty, build relationships and encourage new relationships, is to provide consistent and reliable service. This is no surprise, but as distribution networks grow, systems need to be scalable to allow for a growing customer base, increasing orders and a growing number of routes.
Developments and investment in this area are what separates outstanding service and successful wholesalers from others. Those Wholesalers that have their key focus on customer service make the right investments early on to ensure each of their customers continues to experience personalised, consistent and quality service even as they scale.
Route Planning and optimisation software is nothing new for larger operations, but smaller businesses can also benefit from the accurate, timely service that is made possible with intuitive software that helps with planning, ensures delivery windows and customer preferences are adhered to, alongside the massive reduction in time spent on manual administrative tasks.
Early investors understand that the adoption of a competent route accounting system reflects directly on improving customer relationships, building loyalty and allowing those businesses to outcompete their rivals.
Another key process that must be optimised to ensure quality customer service surrounds accountability. Ensuring each delivery is tracked, recorded properly, and all information regarding each delivery is documented and accessible to both internal teams and customers is critical.
Not only does this reduce the chance of a delivery going missing or being delivered incorrectly, but it also minimises disputes while keeping the customer in the loop at all times.
Variation, promotions, and discounts
This process is understandably more important to some sectors rather than others. Food-to-Go businesses, for example, have to spend more time observing trends, planning marketing strategies and product promotions and variation.
The nature of the sector determines how promotions will be run, whether that be in the form of monthly product line changes, banners and stands, customer-specific discounts and so on.
This requires wholesalers to not only focus on their customer’s needs and business models, but also to keep an eye on the end-consumer, their habits, preferences and needs. A podcast from The Convenience Mix recently touched upon this example of the F2G sector; they discussed the growing demand for more varied meal time options and a constant rotation of products on offer. This requires close communication between retailers and distributors to ensure all needs are met and sales efforts are as impactful as possible.
From a distributor’s perspective, these continuously changing and evolving demands put pressure on existing stock, product and pricing management systems. Flexible, capable systems that easily allow their teams to cater for these ever-evolving needs promises a competitive advantage that drives sales for both them and their customers, but to reiterate, the communication with customers here is vital.
Elaborating on our first innovation is the access to, and use of more data behind each customer to personalise service further and boost sales.
There are a variety of ways Wholesalers use their customer’s data to improve relationships.
With extensive digital records of each customer’s past sales records, they can identify purchasing habits, products that each customer tends to order when customers tend to require new stock, and the number of returns made for each customer.
With this data, van drivers can maximise their sales pitch, offer the right products at the right time whilst maximising up-selling opportunities. Wholesalers increase their profits, while their customers get the products they are looking for at the right time, so they can fulfil their own customer needs and manage their own demand effectively.