From manufacturing, construction, technology, engineering and professional services firms – virtually every industry – this is what I'm hearing from clients, friends and colleagues. As reported in the New York Times, the global supply chain disruption is likely here for the rest of 2022. This, combined with the upheaval in the labour market, creates stormy waters that require skill and grace to navigate customer relationships.
In other words, when delays and challenges occur, customers and partners are more forgiving and understanding when you've built a solid relationship of trust and goodwill.
So, the question for business owners and leaders is: How do we protect and strengthen our customer relationships while navigating the twists and turns?
Building, strengthening and protecting relationships is a journey. It takes discipline and work. Let's face it, many customers, co-workers and partners are grumpy, skeptical, impatient and demanding.
A successful B2B manufacturing company I work with experienced an increase in customer complaints in 2021. A year ago, they delivered product within 2 weeks of purchase; today the average lead time is 16 weeks and they are no longer able to produce some of their product lines.
Front line employees were stressed. They had always delivered on their promises in the past. Because of the supply chain reality, they weren't sure what to say or how to explain the situation without disappointing clients. Tension mounted internally; sales blamed production, and the plant blamed procurement and shipping. Relationships were suffering inside and outside the organization. They knew they had to address it. I introduced them to the 'Landscape Tool'.
The Landscape Tool guided them through a step-by-step process to manage expectations. Step 1 is to anticipate questions, needs and concerns. Step 2 is to identify, inform and communicate the service risk points beyond your control. My client had several issues beyond their control, including suppliers unable to deliver parts necessary for their product, snowstorms, the lack of truck drivers, and their inability to plan because of staff absences due to COVID 19.
Step 5 of the Landscape Tool is consistently communicating what you are doing, including specific steps you are taking to fulfil the service. My client is now upfront, honest and transparent with customers, employees and partners. They share upcoming interruptions in supply and how they are addressing them.
There are 3 main components to address when managing expectations:
What is emerging is a new trust risk point. A new vulnerability for companies. One that is driving companies to invest in trust. Now is the time to invest and learn the skills of managing expectations, a key to protecting relationships of trust.
When everyone has the skillset and the confidence to communicate and manage expectations, customer confidence increases.