Customer Service in the Supply Chain

What is Customer Service?

Customer service is the act of taking care of the customer’s needs by providing and delivering professional, helpful, high quality service and assistance before, during, and after the customer’s requirements are met.

Why is customer service important?

Provides value – great customer service programs should focus on treating customers well, answering questions, and meeting their expectations. This makes businesses involves customers helping them have stronger relationships.

Retains customers – keeping loyal customers is way less expensive than getting new ones.

It is often perceived that quality and customer service increase cost – in fact costs are reduced through getting things right first time.

In the above definition we have said that the customer’s requirements are met – surely we should say that these requirements should be exceeded? After all, todays levels of service will have been raised tomorrow.

Customer service can be perceived on three levels:

  • The actual product or service
  • The way that it is presented and served to the customer
  • The after-sales service and support.

If we examine these in turn we will see that the Supply Chain manager does have an influence of the actual product or service, whether it be care of the product in a storage facility or whether the service is under his control.

The way that a product or service is served to the customer whether it is a parcel or a customer going to a restaurant is essentially where the supplier meets the customer.  It should be considered as probably the most important phase of the chain. How often do we outsource this vital aspect to a third party?

The after-sales service and support is where the supplier needs to concentrate as much as the initial service.  There are occasions when mistakes are made which generate a complaint.  A complaint should be considered as a gift in that the customer gives direct feedback, even though it is negative; the complaint does put the customer in front of the supplier where a relationship can be established.  It is then up to the supplier of the service or product to solve the problem and allow the customer to become a supporter.

What is the supply chain?  One definition is the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services.  However, there is a movement that suggests that we should call the chain a demand chain.  The reason is that supply chain implies that there is a push function which provides products through the chain with the implication of excess stock.  This does meet the requirements of the consumer in having availability but at what cost?

Who are our customers?  We often only consider external customers but it is vital that we meet and exceed the needs of the internal customer; they are also trying to meet the needs of the consumer

What are the implications of not providing Customer Service?  Some of the implications are that we lose customers and have increased costs.

Service has become a vital element in the battle for the hearts, minds, money and support of the customer.  The customer is the final arbiter and that service must always be measured from the customer’s point of view.  Wherever we are in the supply chain we have an influence on the final customer – often called the consumer.  This consumer may or may not have paid for the product; the reasoning is that the product for example could have been a gift. We therefore have to consider the final consumer in all activities along the chain.

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