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Differentiation Starts With Better Customer Experiences

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In material handling, a strong relationship between manufacturer and distributor increases the opportunities for mutual success. Each needs support from the other to survive, and each can help the other to prosper.

The industry trend for distributors is toward multiple product line distribution. As a manufacturer, we recognize that distributors must diversify their offerings to provide a total solution. The distributor’s current product lines may be too narrow, or the end-user may be adding on to an existing application that uses another product. Distributors must be flexible and offer a variety of products to provide the best solution for their customers.

Therefore, manufacturers also must become more diverse. To further penetrate the market, suppliers must offer a complete line of material handling technology. In addition, expanded services are required to differentiate themselves from the competition. In the end, distributors also will benefit because they will have more options and services to offer to their end-user customers.

Focus on Distributor Satisfaction
An important element of a sensational customer experience is rapid response to customer problems. Problems are inevitable; the key is to solve them quickly. Manufacturers who are known in the industry to respond quickly to problems will have a competitive edge. The manufacturer and distributor must work together to understand each other’s needs and identify proper lines of communication. One way to do so is to empower employees to make decisions that resolve customer problems promptly. Manufacturers should monitor the customer experience and develop protocols to improve it. Distributors will work hard for the manufacturer that works hard for them.

Another differentiator is a support group that will offer help to distributors. This group should be capable of providing quotations and answering questions on pricing, application, shipping schedules and billing. This customer support group should be the first line of communication for troubleshooting and problem resolution. If they cannot resolve the problem, they should have the ability to call on any company resource to solve the problem.

Acknowledgement is an important part of the distributor experience. Acknowledging every order in writing, large or small, serves multiple purposes. First, it’s another opportunity to say “thank you” for the order. Second, it provides a chance for the customer to verify that the order is correct. It sounds simple, but order acknowledgement often is overlooked.

Manufacturers also can supplement the distributor’s staff by providing sales and technical services. Many distributors do not have engineers on staff. Manufacturers can provide technical reviews, application assistance and engineering services. One way is to employ a technical review team that checks every system layout to make sure it’s correct and to come up with the most economical solution for the customer. Regional sales assistance can provide individual product training, sales strategy and presentation assistance. Online product training keeps distributors current with product modifications and improvements. In-house training classes provide a distributor’s new employees with initial product application training.

All these practices are part of being a customer-driven company. Diversification and partnering in material handling will strengthen the ability of manufacturers and distributors to enjoy mutual success.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
16a_Gordon Hellberg Meet the Author
Gordon Hellberg is a member of MHEDA’s Manufacturers Board of Advisors and is vice president of TGW-ERMANCO, located in Spring Lake, Michigan, and on the Web at www.tgw-ermanco.com.

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