Reference my previous post on how to earn customer loyalty, here’s a real-world example of how to do it:

First the background

Years ago I was part owner in a small manufacturing company — we made high-end portable floors, sold to large resorts, country clubs, hotels, etc. to be used as part of hosting events. We had six suppliers and two business partners. Our suppliers provided raw materials necessary to manufacture our products and partners provided critical services that enabled delivery and cash management.

The partner that earned our loyalty and built on it every day was our shipping partner.

Our products were sold allover the United States and Canada, ranging from 16’x 16’ to 60’x 80’ floors, assembled from manufactured 4’ x 4’ panels. Each panel weighs 45 lbs. We shipped our floors with specialty made carts, used for storage and movement of the panels and associated connector plates and transitions. Shipping typically comprised of crating, with some floors requiring two or more crates. An average crate weights 1300 lbs.; we shipped a few such crates each week. On top of that, we received raw materials from suppliers on a routine basis, always coordinating our own shipping.

Where I’m going with this is we did a fair amount of shipping. And it’s was an integral part of our business. Without a great shipping partner, our costs would spiral, customer deliveries would be unpredictable, and maintaining a consistent flow of materials would be challenging. We required a cost effective and reliable shipping partner.

What we loved most about our shipping partner was telling others about them.

The example of earning customer loyalty

We once had a short notice request for delivery of a second floor to a luxury resort in the Northern US. They called us two days before their scheduled delivery and said they had a problem they needed our help with. They needed a second floor in four days as part of a high profile wedding they were hosting — the bride had decided a larger floor was required and as such they needed a second floor from us to combine with the first to satisfy their customer’s last minute request.

There is no way we could produce a floor in such short notice, it’s just not possible. So, we looked at ready inventory and the possibility of speeding the shipment.

Typical delivery for such a floor (one of those 1300 lbs. crates) to that part of the country is normally 5 days. Trying to help our customer, we turned to our shipping rep and shared our dilemma. Quickening my story, our rep called us back in a few hours and presented an array of options to deliver the floor on time – he anticipated every question, had the precise date and time of each decision deadline, knew the cost and decision matrix of each guarantee option, and finished with a recommendation that met everyone’s need of cost and timeliness.

When given the okay to move forward with his recommendation, he took-over all the paperwork, stating it was a bit complicated and knowing it’s important thought he should do it to make sure everything went perfectly. Here’s what else he did while working for us and our customer:

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  • The evening before the shipment he called to say he spoke with the local carrier scheduled to pick-up our floor…everything was coordinated and ready to go
  • He verified we had each piece of the paperwork he filled-out
  • He called at the scheduled pick-up time to assure everything was okay
  • He called the morning after pick-up to say he spoke with the air carrier and the crate had left the Bay Area safely
  • He called later that evening to say the crate had made it to the local ground carrier and was scheduled for delivery the following day
  • He called our customer and handled coordination of the local delivery
  • He called and sent me an email confirmation of the delivery — on-time
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Overkill? Not to us. It was an important delivery.

I asked him why he did all this and his answer is the message to us all – “I know how important this deliver is to you and your customer. I wanted to make sure my part of this event wasn’t going to let anyone down.”

He was working for us.

Would we have left this partner for another company that offered a slightly or even significantly lower price? No way. It’s the service we appreciate. It’s the service that we depend on and integrate into our business. Our shipper made their business our business. The sales guy made it happen.

Compare that with our other partner

While not going into too much detail about the dissatisfaction with our finance partner, let’s just say they weren’t working for us, they processed paperwork. We followed their procedures, they were nice on the phone, they did what they said they would, but they didn’t work for us. They didn’t carry our needs as their own. They didn’t worry about the things we worried about. They didn’t have our sense of urgency.

We always had to call them first. We always had to follow-up on their deadlines — deadlines that were ours, which they didn’t consider their own. They were not part of our team. They provided a good service at a good price. They were predictable, yet not remarkable.

Our finance partner provided a commidity service.  And we used their service for a while, then changed to a new partner when a better offer came along. We weren’t loyal customers — they didn’t earn it.

Food for thought

Do you earn loyalty from your customers.  Looking at the two examples in my story, which partner are you more like?

What’s your customer loyalty story?

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