“The last experience that your customer has with you and your brand, usually delivery from a logistics provider, defines their perception of your business and your company.” – Victoria Meyer, President, Progressio Global
In this episode of The Chemical Show, host Victoria Meyer discusses the importance of managing your company’s Customer Experience (CX) through third-party service providers. The episode emphasizes the importance of defining key communication roles, channels, and expectations to ensure a seamless and positive customer experience, especially in a business-to-business (B2B) space.
Customer Experience is both end-to-end and omni-channel and is influenced not just by the activities of your own company, but also the business partners your company engages.
This episode touches on the role of logistics companies in this process, highlighting the need for transparency and a clearly defined CX playbook to meet customer expectations, regardless of the service provider used.
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Optimizing Customer Experience Through 3rd Party Service Providers
This is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show. This is a Thursday quick-hitter, which is a bit more tactical in nature. I’m addressing topics and questions that I’m hearing from folks in the industry, relevant news and timely happenings, and giving strategic and tactical answers and approaches. Today’s topic is Optimizing Customer Experience through Third-Party Service Providers. Service providers, particularly those who engage with your customer on your behalf, play a critical role in the chemical industry.
Today’s episode ties back to episode 104, which featured Jennifer Braun of Trinity Logistics discussing the dynamics of the chemical shipping industry. One of the things that Jennifer said that really stood out to me is the increased role that Trinity and other logistics companies played during the pandemic. Particularly as it related to customer communication during times of supply chain instability, which, as we all know, over the past couple of years there has been a lot of supply chain instability.
What Jennifer said was: “We became a key communicator between customer and supplier. Sharing what we knew about the supplier’s availability and the overall supply chain situation. Many of our customers relied on us to be their communication piece and being able to do whatever it would take to service their customers.” Powerful, critical, and it also brings to mind, “Whose customer is this anyway?”
As you know, Trinity and third party logistics companies, whether they be trucking companies or rail companies, et cetera, have always had an interface role between chemical suppliers and their customers. They play a vital and critical role to the actual delivery of the product. But are they doing it in a way that meets your customer experience expectations?
We talk a lot about customer experience on The Chemical Show, and when I think about customer experience, it’s really about being end-to-end and omnichannel. All right, so what does that mean?
First of all, end-to-end, the customer experience is not about customer service, although it’s a component of it. It is not just about customer acquisition the early party of your customer journey, or about sales and marketing. It really starts in the early days that your customers and future customers become aware of you and start interacting with you all the way through fulfillment and beyond. Customer experience is influenced by your company and by the service providers that you hire of a wide variety. That is the end to end piece.
Omnichannel often refers to online or ecommerce or digitization or whether you’re selling through salespeople. It also refers to your service providers. So with customer experience it is critically important to know that it’s end to end, beginning to end, cradle to grave, and omnichannel.
The other thing that I find really important to remember is the last experience that your customer has with you and your brand that defines their perception of your business and your company. Is the delivery to their site and of course the follow on invoicing process, et cetera. Although that’s going to be a little bit of a topic of another discussion because that is often handled in house and that’s its own story.
So when we think about this end to end delivery and that last mile on the end from a B2B perspective, we often say, well, our customers get it, right? They know that company X, Y and Z is not the one that’s actually in control of the very final piece of getting product to the customer’s location. That’s true. But they also still really expect you and your company to have an influence on who’s doing that work and how they’re doing that work and that delivery for you.
If you think about this on a personal level, on a B to C basis, think about your electricity providers. You’ve got a contract with, well, it kind of depends on who you are and your region – ComEd or Reliant or someone else. That’s who your bill comes from, that’s who you’ve contracted with, and that’s who you call when there’s a problem. However, when there is a problem or when there is a power outage at your house or your neighborhood, often a third party provider does the work. They visit your house or your neighborhood and they do the work. And that’s part of your customer experience.
Do we think when the power is out, oh Joe’s Electrical Service, who is the third party service provider responsible for doing that work, has been rude or they’re slow to respond? Or do we think, oh Reliant, who’s sending me my bill, who I’ve contracted with is slow to respond? It’s the latter, right? We are looking at and influenced by our supplier, not the intermediaries necessarily. We’re holding the customer experience responsibility to our suppliers and this is true in a B2B space.
So let’s talk about this a bit. How much time have you and your company spent defining what that experience, your customer experience, looks like enacted by a third party and what does that look and feel like to your customer? And again, this applies to all your business and service partners. Logistics, this got teed up on my conversation with Jennifer Braun from Trinity Logistics. But logistics is one space. Technical support, right? Some companies are contracting with third parties to manage technical support, whether it be quality or performance issues, whether it be more creative application development and other items, right? Outsourced customer interfaces some companies have outsourced their financial interfaces, or perhaps your customer service interfaces.
How have you defined what the customer experience is not just for the people inside your organization that are executing it for your service providers? Here’s a challenge, often we say that’s not my job. I’m here to tell you it is everyone’s job. Customer experience is sometimes seen as the domain of marketing or commercial management or the sales organization or customer service. It is not. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure your customer experience is what you need it to be.
I think this is really interesting when we go into the logistics space, because often logistics, whether it be trucking or rail or marine, is owned by logistics or supply chain or procurement. And that’s awesome and it’s great and it’s appropriate. But they often think about the technical details without necessarily understanding the commercial and the customer and the customer experience details. Customer experience is everyone’s responsibility end to end, omnichannel.
I’m going to share with you guys today some ways that you can influence your third party service providers, hold them to a higher standard, and ensure a positive customer experience along the way. First of all, best practice, a customer experience playbook. A customer experience playbook (CX Playbook), clearly defines your vision, your customer experience strategy, the business processes and the outcomes both tangible and emotional, the feel that you expect your customers to experience. Many companies, most companies probably, have brand guides, right? They define the colors, the logos, how you use it, how you maintain your corporate image. Whether you are making a banner or doing an ad or sending out a sales brochure or doing something in written or digital fashion, that’s pretty common.
It’s a bit rarer to find a CX playbook that’s as well defined and that is as all encompassing as what you expect your customer experience end to end, omnichannel to be. If you’ve got it, you are a step ahead. You’ve got that CX playbook? Share it. That’s my number one piece of advice. Understand what you want it to be and share it.
Interested in learning more about B2B Customer Experience Best Practices? Here’s a CX Best Practices Guide that you can download.
Beyond having a CX Playbook, what do you need to be doing to ensure that you’ve got a robust, well defined customer experience that meets your standards and values, going through your value chain and through your third party service providers?
1. Clearly communicate expectations. So you’re starting with that CX playbook if you’ve got it. It needs to be not just the technical requirements. We’re good at defining technical requirements. So oh, it needs to be a certain type of hookup. Hey, this is a place that has a policy that you can’t have facial hair, which is a really common thing across the chemical industry. Other standards, right?
We’re good at our technical requirements, but the rest of it needs to be in there. Customer service standards, brand image, your corporate values. Think about how you want those service provider to show up, how do you want them to communicate? What are their boundary conditions? Think about those expectations and make sure that you’ve communicated them.
2. Build it into your contracts and requirements. Set service level standards and incorporate that into service level agreements. Again as I mentioned, often we’re really good at covering the technical details of what we need. Equipment, PPE, the specific dates and times of arrival. But other aspects that you should be including are your performance metrics, your customer experience expectations. Some of these things are around response times, resolution procedures, quality standards. Be really clear and build it in up front so that you don’t have surprises on the back end. You are clear and transparent in those requirements.
3. Clarify communications and the role with your company. It is striking to me what Jennifer from Trinity Logistics said, the critical role that they took and the stepped up role that they took during the pandemic for communications between customers and suppliers, your customers, their suppliers. Getting really clear about what does that communication look like and who is it, who’s on first? Who are the key points of contact at the different points of execution between you and your customer? Do you know who that is? Does your customer know who that is? Getting really clear and defining who those individuals are, how you contact them, what their role is, is critical.
What are your forms of communication? Is this a service provider that can tie into your CRM system? Do you want to be communicated back through text or email or phone call? How do you make this multi way communication? Because all of a sudden we’ve got multiple directions for communication. How do you ensure that it’s clear, that it’s transparent and that it’s going to the right people? Define it upfront. If you haven’t defined it up front, that’s okay. Put a pit in it, define it right now. Decide what’s working, document it, change what’s not working.
4. Build Transparency. Transparency is critical, as you know, when you’re working with third party service providers. When you think about what is that customer and that customer experience, having transparency is supremely important. So number one, transparency with your customer and your business partner in terms of these KPIs, in terms of these aspects of who’s doing what, in terms of these aspects of what are the communication protocols.
And then also think about feedback. I know, you know, feedback gets hung up in the system. And so your customer may say, well, we gave you that feedback. Who did you give the feedback to? They might say oh, we gave the feedback to the truck driver or oh, we gave the feedback to somebody that picked up the phone at whatever number we called or we sent it in. Understand what those chains of communication are for feedback. Make sure you have a way of bringing it in, doing something with it, and improving your customer experience.
Customer experience is everyone’s responsibility. It’s both end-to-end, customer activation through fulfillment and beyond, and multichannel. When you’re relying on third party service providers who interface with customers on your behalf, managing and defining the customer experience is crucial. At the end of the day, your customers are doing business with you.
Thanks for joining us today.
How does your company influence or control the customer experience through your service providers? What’s working well for you? Send me a message on LinkedIn to let me know.. I would really love to hear from you. I really value that perspective that you bring to me.