Today’s consumers are more informed and discerning than ever before, and this puts them more firmly in the driver’s seat than ever before. Customer service is one of the four most important things young consumers look for in a retail experience (along with quality, sustainability and omnichannel), according to a 2018 report on retailing trends by global management consulting firm Deloitte.
In the logistics sector, as in other industries, there’s a discernible – and unsurprising – link between customer service and bottom-line profitability. It’s why, at local logistics firm Bidvest Panalpina Logistics (BPL), operational proficiency is balanced by the efficacy of an informed, willing and skilled workforce that ensures that targets are not only met but exceeded. Regional general manager Debbie Beadle says, “We have an excellent quality management system in place at BPL which immediately alerts management to non-conformance issues in customer service, allowing us to address and resolve them within the shortest possible time frame.”
Owned by services, trading and distribution powerhouse Bidvest, and the local partner of Swiss-owned Panalpina Group, BPL has witnessed remarkable growth over the last 30 years – growth attributable at least in part to the emphasis it places on solid customer service. This has a lot to do with listening to what customers have to say about their experiences with the company, and keeping current where both personnel development and technology are concerned. “We regularly send out surveys, to our internal workforce and our client base, encouraging ongoing feedback,” says regional general manager Petrus Gerber. “We also hold regular key performance indicator meetings with our staff, encouraging continuous improvement both in terms of people skills and as far as our technology is concerned.”
And where the company’s people are concerned, client feedback is rigorously followed up and appropriate action taken. “If a customer complains, corrective action is immediately taken to mitigate further frustration or damage,” notes Beadle. That swift response is also applied in a positive situation too. If a customer has shared a compliment, the staff member involved will be appraised and encouraged to uphold their great attitude and service. BPL’s popular and well-oiled staff-rewards programme that recognises excellence plays a significant role in upholding a positive, nurturing staff culture – a vital ingredient in delivering exceptional customer service, Beadle believes.
Acknowledgement within the wider industry is also important as a yardstick of customer-service delivery, and it’s not by chance that BPL walked away with the PMR Diamond award for this second year running this year. These awards, curated by consultancy and research company PMR.africa, and intended to set industry benchmarks and enhance excellence, ask exporters and importers to score entrants on, among other things, proactive communication, risk management and value-added solutions – and BPL came out tops. Maria du Preez, new business development director at BPL, regards established awards like these “as an opportunity for any entrant to seriously evaluate the customer service aspect” of their company. “For us, it’s an important barometer,” she says.
Studies and statistics have shown time and again that unhappy customers act quickly and decisively, wasting no time in taking their business elsewhere if they’re unhappy with the service they get. The opposite is also true: happy customers are loyal customers. And, from a bottom-line perspective, improving repeat business from existing clientele is often easier and more profitable, as businesses save on time, cost and effort to find new customers. Tellingly, BPL’s client list includes customers they’ve been servicing for up to 15 years.
For Gerber, the reason for this is simple: customer service is built into the culture and value of the organisation. And Beadle concurs: “A company is only as good as its reputation, and that reputation should be built on solid customer service,” she says.