By Matt Samson
Perhaps this business lull presents an opportunity to keep us busy on a good purpose: focusing on stepping up our customer service. You'll be providing real value to your customers, an additional sense of purpose to your own team, and building deeper relationships and loyalty.
Just Check In
Although you're avoiding hyper-aggressive appointment setting and sales pitches right now, your customers still simply want to hear from you. Check in, let them know you are thinking about them and ask how your company can help them get through this. They will appreciate your care, and may just need to air out the stress and anxiety they are feeling.
It might be a good time to virtually bring together non-competing customers so they can share best practice information around working through this challenging period, staying safe and remaining optimistic. Facilitate and share out good ideas to all who want and will benefit.
Be Easy to Do Business With
Take a page from grocery and liquor stores. Pre-pick orders, make them available curbside, and ease delivery restrictions. If you offer online purchasing, remind your customers of that; train them, and offer major incentives to try. We may find customers in our industry more willing than ever to embrace technology and the value-added services we offer.
Help Them Work Safe
Take a section of your website or a microsite (whatever is easier for you to set up and maintain quickly) and dedicate it to worker safety. Push text updates with critical updates to your customers who want you to keep them informed. States (and even counties and cities) are continuing to evolve rules around "essential" business. Curfews are popping up, masks are being required, and many other variables that customers need to know are happening. Monitor key information sites and frequent government updates, synthesize the news, and then post it as quickly as possible. Be that resource.
Can any of your employees sew masks? What a win-win right now! They get both safety and a sense of fulfillment. And imagine the reception your sales team will get when they roll up to a jobsite with a few clean masks?
Does your company sponsor a charity? Perhaps the recipients are especially in need of extra help right now that you can offer.
With demand dropping, many customers are taking advantage of downtime to sharpen their skills and diversify their offerings in preparation for the post-pandemic ramp up. Make your best business skills (marketing, accounting, sales) and product install training available to help customers use their time productively and broaden their skillsets. And how about webcasts where your internal experts offer training and Q&A? Short, interactive and easy to access—live or recorded—are key.
Chances are, you already have content available to leverage and just need to freshen it. You can also review the plethora of now-free courses, memberships, and subscriptions available online. Curate a set, post them on your website, and let customers know it's another area where you can help.
Build expertise around the CARES Act as it relates to small business so you can help customers navigate. Grants, loans, tax extensions. .. there is a lot of confusion around the provisions for small business, and it continues to evolve. Post your own or existing summaries on your COVID-19 dedicated website area, customers are hungry to learn.
Be Patient With Your Payables
Yes, we are approaching the third rail here. Can you relax payment deposit requirements and payment schedules, at least for historically good payers? How about allowing credit cards anytime and eating the fees? Maybe you could juice payment terms, too, as an incentive for the ones who can pay earlier. If distributors are feeling a cash crunch, we know our smaller scale customers must be as well, so do what you can to relieve the burden.
Stock Up on Products
You are surely feeling the pinch of vendors closing or limiting plant production. Be the distributor that customers can rely on to have what they need in stock, right away, for free delivery. Build up now, substitute other products where you can, and go as far as to work with your competitors to help keep the contractors and industry moving.
Matt Samson runs Samson and Partners, a consultancy specializing in marketing, strategy and sales. He spent nearly 13 years as VP for marketing, strategy, and sales at Harvey Building Products and has held executive roles for more than 20 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-838-1868.