Supply Chain Woes and Communicating with Your Customers

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The global supply chain is in crisis. The scarcity is real, and for most retailers – the occasional backorder went from a low-grade and fairly infrequent problem to major outages, much of the time, and backorders of three to four months are increasingly common. Customer reactions range from anger and frustration to panic that they won’t get what they need. Believe it or not, it’s possible to make the best of a bad situation. A brand’s response to trying situations: returns, backorders, and out-of-stocks, can make or break your customers’ perception. So what moves make sense?

First, your customer has an immediate need. So when possible, sell what’s available today (SWAT). Something that can fill that is far superior to a perfect solution that’s available in four to six months. You need a reliable inventory system, and a knowledgeable staff that’s empowered and capable to direct customers to the right solution that’s available on hand, or smart website algorithms that can suggest an appropriate alternate product.

But what if offering an alternative product is not possible? Then it becomes about managing expectations, communicating early and often, and empathizing with the customers’ likely frustrations.

Managing Expectations

The last thing you want to do is to lull the customer into thinking a product is in stock, placing an order and then setting them up for disappointment with a backorder notification.  Yes, sometimes that’s unavoidable. But that shouldn’t be the go-to customer experience if we can help it.

Best case scenario: allow the customer the choice: allow them to use faceted navigation to filter by what’s in stock, or by delivery date, giving them the freedom to decide whether they need something that’s in stock immediately, or if they can wait several weeks to get the perfect item. Big retailers like Target, Lowes and Home Depot are doing this really well.

If that’s not possible, set accurate expectations with an estimated delivery date on the product page. Allow the customer to place the order an order to be fulfilled when it comes in, like this example from Article.

Communicating Early & Often

Take a less-than-desirable situation: backorders, out-of-stocks, and use it as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship with the customers. It’s counter-intuitive, but deeper customer relationships can be forged during tough times. Some brands, like Nordstroms, have built a reputation for customer service by how they leverage returns into a positive brand interaction. And their customers love them for it, and take to social media, blogs and share stories over lunch to rave about their experience. Take the opportunity to demonstrate to the customer that you take their concerns and problems seriously.

When a customer service representative is directly involved, make sure they are empowered to solve problems, and above all, listen and empathize with the customers’ frustrations before moving on to a timely solution (L.E.A.R.N: Learn, Empathize, Analyze, React, Now).

Get triggered series’ in place for keeping the customer notified of any change in status. Order confirmation with accurate estimated arrival, followed by Shipping Status changes: shipping delay, or order shipped. Update your “Post Purchase” series, which further acknowledge the situation and empathize with the customer in addition to a general “thank you” and request for a review and a prompt to rate their purchase experience.

This is an unprecedented time, but we can all agree that we can benefit from a little empathy and kindness in our communications. But the smartest brands are taking the opportunity to really stand out in a difficult situation and put their money where their mouth is – proving that when times they stand by their customers.