eCommerce strategies that stand out from the crowd
Nobody saw it coming.
Without rehashing it, I think we can all agree that the last few years are unlike anything we’ve ever experienced and never want to go through again. As people. As families. And, as businesses. But from a business perspective, it has been nothing short of fascinating.
In our channel, we started off with massive uncertainty. What was going to happen? Would we survive? How would people react? Could we stay open? How could we work almost completely remotely? Who would have believed that—within weeks—we would all be experts on something called Zoom.
We saw an amazing growth happen immediately after we thought we might not survive. And now unfortunately many have seen tremendous slowing, with some going back to “pre-pandemic” levels.
Companies of all shapes and sizes had issues with supply chain. I saw firsthand all sorts of problems.
Ingredients could not be manufactured fast enough to keep up with demand. Suppliers shut down with entire staffs being quarantined. This happened with both product manufacturers as well as 3PL partners. Both can be devastating.
After finally getting their ingredients in and product manufactured, I saw one company ship completed product from the US to the Philippines only to realize that the boat the container was on stopped in China for either a pick up or delivery and detained “in quarantine” for nearly 6 months. Who knew? They had one container on a ship with hundreds—if not thousands—of other containers. And they were stuck.
If you were doing business in China, you saw it all. Products couldn’t get into or out of the country. Or, even if you were manufacturing “in-country,” when the major cities locked down completely, you were still out of luck.
Trying Times and Trust Issues
With the unpredictable elements we all faced, somehow, some way, against all odds, we have had to try to keep our customers and distributors happy. If they were simply buying a product from Amazon, and their first choice was “out of stock” due to supply chain issues, they could easily just search for a replacement and, one click later, it was on the way to their home. It will be there tomorrow…or sooner.
While our customers are, obviously, purchasing other products from other retailers, they choose our products for a reason. Perhaps they cannot find a similar product from another resource. They appreciate and trust the quality they get from us. Or, they are trying to make a few extra dollars so they are willing to wait.
But at some point, their patience was understandably tested.
Through it all, one thing became clear: we had to earn and keep the trust of our customers and distributors. We had to be honest and communicate more than ever with relevant information. Not just fluffy marketing. Tell people what they needed to hear. If the product was going to be out of stock for a few weeks, tell them. And, more importantly, tell them how we were going to help them through the challenges.
Trust is hard earned and easily lost.
Transparency Leads to Trust
I watched closely as one client had ongoing/recurring issues with their supply chain. Generally speaking, the challenges were caused by specific ingredient(s) within their formulation of a key product. Repeatedly, they bumped into issues that caused delays in getting those important products into the marketplace. And, repeatedly, they reached out to the customers and distributors to inform them about the challenge and to offer high-value alternatives.
They were honest. They were timely. They were humble. They showed a level of care that people appreciated and believed.
But, it’s hard to imagine that everyone would just accept their explanations and be “ok” with it.
They didn’t. But, they appreciated their efforts and openness.
Recently, that same client conducted a series of “road show” events to get in front of their distributors. A dozen or so events, spread out across the country, were designed to promote new incentives and initiatives. It was a chance to be face-to-face with people who they hadn’t been in front of for a couple of years.
From city to city, they talked, asked questions and listened. They shared optimism and asked to hear how they could help their people succeed.
Yet, from city to city, nobody complained about the supply chain challenges. They could have been mad or disappointed. But, they knew what was happening and appreciated the level of communication from the company. Kudos to them for being open and honest. It was recognized by all involved.
How Direct Selling Differentiates
In our channel, our customers are not just numbers. They are people we know. They are our friends and colleagues. We have asked them what they are looking for and provided solutions that could have a real impact. And not just in some generic sense. We are focused on creating an impact on a person—a real person—not a number.
We build our businesses one person at a time.
The words “customer obsessed” have become a sort of catch phrase for creating an experience for our customers that is special. For the most part, I think the channel does a pretty good job of it, but we can do much better. Most of us have call centers and our distributors and customers call us. They ask questions. They want clarity on products and compensation. We give it to them. Fast, efficient and friendly. I cannot count the number of client events I’ve attended and observed distributors at the onsite company store searching for their favorite person from the call center. They exchange hugs and ask about each other’s families.
THROUGH IT ALL, one thing became clear: we had to earn and keep the trust of our customers and distributors.
It’s real. We care. They care back.
While the rest of the world struggles with email open rates, we send emails to our customers and distributors, and they actually read them at an extraordinary rate. They seem to appreciate that we try to provide information they want to know about.
Where We Can Do More
Interestingly, in research we have done for a number of different companies, one of the biggest complaints we hear from distributors is about the website/shopping cart. Amazon raised the bar and, in many cases, we are still way behind in technical advancements.
We haven’t stepped up to be what we need to be. Instead, we are cumbersome—too much friction. Yet, our customers and distributors still come back. They fight through our inadequacies and order products.
I’ve read countless monthly surveys where we ask the customers about their experiences with our companies. The Net Promoter Scores are off-the-charts. They love our companies and our products. Even when they have concerns and write-in comments with real grievances about backorders, boxes damaged in transit or some other issue, they consistently rank the company with amazingly high scores. They are so high, in fact, that we’ve had to adjust how we read the NPS scores. While we love to read high scores, the real gold and guidance is in the comments, not the score itself.
As I’ve said recently in a previous article, your culture is your superpower. The feeling from a customer that we obsess over them is 100 percent due to your internal team. If they feel obsessed to make distributors and customers happy, everyone feels it. The conversations in your building (or Zoom) become much more focused on fixing things that increase the customer satisfaction.
If your team is truly obsessed with the experience, you will hear questions such as, “If we do this, how will it impact the customer?” or “How can we make the process smoother and easier?” or, perhaps, “Is there a way to make sure the customer gets the most value or best experience from the product?” Or, best of all, “Instead of coming up with good explanations and answers when the customer calls, how do we fix the problem so that the customer doesn’t have to call in the first place?”
Those are variations of real questions I’ve heard from teams that are truly obsessed and willing to go the extra step to make sure customers are happy.
Even in a time of massive technical advancement, we have a special place in the minds of our customers and distributors. If we take it for granted, we lose. But, if we continue to truly obsess to create a team that “gets it” and is willing to ask the tough questions and make real change happen, we can continue to earn and keep the trust of our customers and distributors.
The best advice I’ve ever received in business definitely applies to this.
Ask questions and listen.
If we follow those four words, we will be able to withstand whatever gets tossed our way.
Paul Adams has been involved in the direct selling channel for more than 30 years. Over the decades, he has worked with hundreds of companies and been a trusted advisor in boardrooms with countless executive teams. From corporate giants to pre-startup, Paul has helped companies invent, reinvent and solidify their messaging, strategy and execution.
From the November 2022 issue of Direct Selling News magazine.