We're starting off 2014 with the interview series Aiming for the Hearts of their Customers. These interviews showcase the current state and 2014 plans for nine customer experience leaders in Minnesota.
Shipper’s Supply is an 85-year-old distributor of everything a manufacturer needs to create a great impression, from the actual shipping supply to the automation equipment needed to package products.
This is the first in the series Aiming for the Hearts of their Customers. I chose Shipper’s Supply to begin the series because they are in the very beginning of their customer experience journey, and serve as a great case study of this phase. CEO Dave Kirsch shared the history behind their approach and how they are beginning their focus.
Dave has been the CEO for 13 years now. About 18 months ago, he discovered challenges with the business. “We started recognizing that we had some serious problems that our customers didn’t tell us about. We started looking at what I call ‘The Table Stakes of Customer Experience’ that apply to a distributor – things like accurate order entry and on-time delivery. We recognized these issues on the human resource side, as well, so that’s where we started. ‘Is customer service answering the phone with a smile? Are they overworked? Are they engaged?’ So we started to measure that about a year ago.
Dave hired a dedicated resource to focus this effort – no small commitment for a 35-person company. ”We are deliberately seeking out that Customer Intelligence, understanding what our customers truly value. When we went through our business model process we looked at all of the touch points our customers go through. And we often found that we didn’t have a deliberate reason for some of the things we’re doing. So we asked ourselves, ‘What is the way we want to greet that customer on the phone or in the sales process?’ Really, we went back and said ‘How do we want to appear to our customer? And, more important, how do we appear now? Is that good or bad?’ So now we’re going out and asking our customers.
We recognized that we need somebody to drive our strategy. We needed to understand our different types of customers, how we’re serving them today, and how we should serve them. So we needed somebody with a strategic outlook to lead our efforts
“We needed somebody who could help us structure the matrix of the customer experience and our sales department to know that we’re not just a shipping supply company. We need to appear differently to our different audiences. We need to be specific, and not appear to be just dabbling in each area.”
A large part of this effort is learning to define their ideal customer. SSI realized they’ve fallen into the common trap of servicing every customer. “Sometimes, we’re not the best answer. We need to learn who we best serve. Who is the customer who will really benefit from our value proposition?” This has been a major effort. The easy strategy is to accept everybody who will take an order. But Dave and his team realize the sacrifices made when you have to assign team members to serve any need.
The last year has really been about discovering the questions, creating the strategy, and building the team. Along the way, they are developing the metrics to help them understand their existing service levels. “Our team is learning. Their eyes are opening up. The process takes a lot longer than we’re used to. The old way was ‘Get it done.’ By going through planning, it probably takes ten times longer. But that’s okay. Every day we’re moving up this mountain.” When I asked how this journey is changing his team, he answered, “We’re thinking less about what we have to offer, and more about what our customers need.”
Shipper’s Supply’s employees don’t have to ask what their strategies are, as they’re plain to see. Their training room is a central facility for most meetings, and the initiatives are in plain sight on their wall (see below). Their efforts start with employee engagement. The company has built a survey, and in 2014 they expect to see those metrics grow.
Next comes customer engagement. They’re building a survey to understand the Metrics that Matter to establish a baseline, and this leads to Performance Management, their third effort. They’re creating development plans for all employees, tied into the company goals.
The fourth strategy, still under development, is Strategic Renewal. As Dave says, “There are some customers who we may not be the best fit for. We need to help them find their ideal supplier. And there are some customers that we’re not serving optimally. How do we change how we’re serving them to better help them drive their business? The journey begins in 2014, but this is a multi-year journey to create that ideal customer experience.”