It’s no surprise that people and supplies are in short supply these days. The labor shortages and supply chain disruptions that became acute during the pandemic still stubbornly persist. Companies are having a hard time hiring the workers they need at all levels, and unpredictable supply chains are forcing many businesses to tell customers they can’t guarantee deliveries.

Add to that 8% inflation that has compelled many businesses to raise prices, and the result is a lot of businesses with strained cash flow and difficulty fulfilling customers’ expectations.

It doesn’t seem like the right time to be worried about service, but that’s exactly what business owners should be focusing on. Now, more than ever, service is what will distinguish companies that survive and even thrive during these difficult times from those that won’t.

If you’re approaching business today saying just get it out the door, we’ve got high demand and shortage of supplies – people will pay us to just get it done – that’s a short-sighted way of looking at it. If you run the business that way in the next year or two and don’t put customer service first, you have a potential for failure.

What Service Looks Like Today

Service takes a different form during times like these. We often think of good service as being no more than delivering products on time. But at a time when you can’t always do that, what defines good service?

Communication – Multiple touches throughout the year are vital communication tactics right now. Think proactively and have conversations with your customers – not just quick check-ins. Be passionate about your business and about theirs, and show you understand their company and their industry.

Information – If a customer asks when the goods will be delivered, provide as definitive an answer as possible. “We have no way of knowing” is not going to make anyone feel good about working with you, no matter how long they’ve been good customers. Customers don’t expect you to predict the future, but they want to know what’s going on. A customer will appreciate hearing something like, “Delivery times have been ranging from four to six weeks later. If the goods come in sooner than that, we will get them right to you. If it’s going to be any longer, we’ll call and let you know.”

Gratitude – When was the last time you sent a thank-you email to an important customer? Now would be a good time to start. Let your customers know you don’t take them for granted and that you appreciate their loyalty to your company at a time when you can’t always give them the guarantees they’re used to. Everyone likes to feel appreciated.

Ask Customers How You’re Doing

Most importantly, ask customers how you are doing. Let them know you care about their needs and their opinions by doing a customer satisfaction survey.

We perform our own client satisfaction survey here at HW&Co. We have worked hard to maintain high levels of service even as our firm has grappled with workforce shortages and the shift to a hybrid work model, like most other accounting firms. We care about whether our clients recognize our commitment to service and whether they think we’re hitting the mark.

Doing a customer satisfaction survey properly requires more than just an email asking customers what they think. For the most reliable results, work with an outside survey provider (usually a marketing agency that specializes in surveys). They know how to word questions, how to segment your customer lists and how to interpret the results.

Good Time for Entrepreneurs?

One last thought about the importance of service amid a stressful market. The labor and supply shortages may be making this a good time for technology-minded entrepreneurs to start-up businesses with a laser-like focus on service. To the degree that you can maximize service and delivery by leveraging technology, you may be able to capture a good portion of market share by reaching customers who are dissatisfied with their current suppliers.

In many markets, customers are willing to pay more to get the service and appreciation they expect.

Because of the unknowns in our economy, rising interest rates and technology disruptions, it’s essential to service your customers as well as possible today because when they look to change providers, they will remember who gave them quality service when they needed it.

When everyone starts looking at costs again and asking, ‘How much are we paying this provider?’ they won’t question the ones who continued giving them great service through these difficult times.

Brandon Miller, CPA, CGMA