End Users Speak Out on Distributor Service

Oct. 5, 2012
Over the next few months, Electrical Wholesaling and Channel Marketing Group, Durham, N.C., will be conducting a series of surveys of EC&M’s audience on the customer service (or lack of it) they get from electrical distributors. Following is an excerpt of that article.

Over the next few months, Electrical Wholesaling and Channel Marketing Group, Durham, N.C., will be conducting a series of surveys of EC&M’s audience on the customer service (or lack of it) they get from electrical distributors; online shopping in the electrical market; the impact of distributors’ marketing campaigns; how end users use smartphones and tablet computers; and other key topics of vital interest to electrical distributors. Analysis of the top-line trends we discover in this research will be published in upcoming issues of EW.

This month’s issue of Electrical Wholesaling explores what end users think about the customer service electrical distributors offer. What more than 500 electrical contractors, facility maintenance personnel and other EC&M readers had to say will intrigue, delight and frustrate you. Following is an excerpt of that article.

Customers think special care and handling of emergency deliveries is the ultimate in superior service. When Electrical Wholesaling’s editors asked respondents, “Could you provide an example of superior service that you have received this year?” we weren’t quite sure what electrical contractors and other end users would tell us. But their responses were illuminating and many of them focused on dramatic examples of how an electrical distributor went the extra mile for them. Respondents told us about distributors who would air-freight critical parts, send special couriers to jobsites or offices and often hand-deliver a product to a customer at work or at home.

Joseph Mulinix, J.E.M. Electric, Runnemede, N.J., an electrical service contractor, mentioned how he worked with an electrical distributor’s inside salesperson on a Friday night from 9:00 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. to get fuses from the manufacturer to the airport so he could have them the next day by 1 p.m.

And how about the following example of service from Patrick Almquist, an EC&M reader working at the Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. plant in Tomah, Wis.?: “Due to a change in a project, I had a need for made-to-order fixtures that needed to be installed on short notice to assure the project would receive a certificate of occupancy. The outside salesman met me on the jobsite within hours of my request to discuss the application, and a quote was received the same day of his visit.

“An order was placed the following morning, and the inside salesperson immediately communicated with the manufacturer to discuss the urgency of the order. They proactively communicated to me projected delivery dates and information from several follow-up calls to make sure the delivery would be on time. As a result, the order shipped within one week of the date it was placed. I even received a follow up call from the outside salesperson to confirm that the shipment was received in good condition.”

The Memphis location of IAC Electrical Equipment & Supplies got a mention from a survey respondent for its fast response to a customer emergency situation. Scott Carter from Georgia Northwest Technical College said when he had a 700HP boiler go down on a PLC card issue, he called IAC Memphis. Although the distributor didn’t have any spare parts on hand in its Memphis warehouse, it had the part couriered in from Illinois within eight hours to minimize the impact on operations.

When things go haywire, respond to the issue honestly and quickly. Stuff happens, and as long as distributors don’t try to BS a customer or start blaming other people for a problem, they can usually learn from it and move on. The advice the survey respondents offered on this point was simple and direct. Said Reyes Torrez, Del Ray Electrical, Chama, N.M., “Fix the screw-up. I know mistakes can happen. Fixing mistakes is what keeps it cool.”

Timothy Keinrath, Timothy A. Keinrath Builders, Millington, Mich., added, “Make it right without going into my pocket!”

Another respondent said simply, “When you screw up, you stand up. The relationship is always a two-way street. That’s what we do with our customer.”

Said Aron Baze, Bazen Electric, Grand Rapids, Mich., “Apologize, correct the ‘mess’ without cost to us or our clients, and make an effort to not repeat the same problem again. One failure does not mean the loss of future opportunities to support our projects — it’s how and how quickly a distributor responds.”

We found it interesting that there were so many similarities in the types of services that distributors’ customers value most. This observation became quite clear in the responses to the survey question, “If you had all of your electrical distributors sitting in the same room for 20 minutes, what would you like to tell them about how they could do a better job of providing electrical products and services to you?”

One EC&M reader said he values knowledgeable counter sales personnel willing go that extra step to help him find what he needs for the job. “Make sure those counter people are taken care of and appreciated for their commitment to their customers and their job,” he said. “That goes a long way in providing customer service and bringing us back in the door.”

John Nunn, an EC&M reader with Cherry Aerospace, wants electrical distributors to stock more products at their branches. “I almost never go to counter unless I need it now,” he said. “Any half-assed company can get it for me tomorrow.”