Supply-Chain Problems = Loyalty Opportunities
For the past two years, supply-chain issues have frustrated suppliers and consumers alike. In October 2021, Adobe reported that out-of-stock messages were up 250% from prepandemic levels, and supply-chain volatility is expected to persist into 2023. Supply-chain delays of everything from baby formula to cars continue to affect our lives and pose a potential crisis for customer service and loyalty.
Novelist James Lane Allen famously said, “Adversity doesn’t build character; it reveals it.” Of course, we’d all prefer to avoid the inconvenience of supply-chain issues. However, like other unavoidable customer-facing challenges, they have an inherent potential to demonstrate to customers that your brand is worthy of their continued loyalty. The memory—positive or negative—of how your brand chooses to handle a supply-chain problem will almost certainly stay with your customers.
As marketers, we don’t have direct control over the many elements that keep a supply chain running smoothly, but we’re well positioned to help our customers navigate delays. We can minimize their frustration and inconvenience.
If we handle delays—and treat our customers—with empathy and care, we can seize the opportunity to strengthen their trust and loyalty.
Here are some key strategies to keep top of mind when engaging with customers about supply-chain challenges.
Make honesty your policy
Customer relationships are based on trust, a delicate and fleeting emotion. If customers don’t believe we’re being forthright, they’re likely to defect to competitors. Customers can understand—and even forgive—delays, but they are unlikely to overlook being kept in the dark or, worse yet, lied to.
So be transparent and honest about any supply-chain challenges, how your company is working to alleviate delays, and what your customers can expect as you address the problem. While it can be difficult to share disappointing news, managing customer expectations is vital.
Customers deserve to know what to expect when they engage us for their products or services. If we demonstrate our commitment to them with honesty and transparency, they may reward us with loyalty.
Communicate early and often
Trust and loyalty can’t be built without communication. Timely and relevant updates are critical during any supply-chain delays. Whenever possible, tailor the message to the specific customer and situation. A customer is more likely to appreciate a message that’s specific to their experience, rather than a generic email blast.
Also, communicate early and often. Customers who make a commitment to our brands deserve to know how we’re following through on our side of the bargain. At a minimum, keep customers informed of key milestones. Is the customer’s order waiting for a part that has now arrived? Has a new bottleneck extended an order’s delay? Is the awaited product about to ship? Keep customers informed each step of the way to earn their trust.
Consider your options
Can you offer your customers a valid alternative to a delayed product? If your company has invested in next-best-offer models, you may be able to direct a customer to a different product that meets their needs and is readily available. This technology can be a powerful tool to help customers find an acceptable replacement without a wait.
If you expect lengthy delays on specific products, you may even consider directing customers to another supplier. While it may feel unnatural to send a customer to a competitor, that demonstration of care and empathy may forge a new level of trust and loyalty that will pay long-term dividends.
Reward loyalty with creative compensation
Even your best customers may question their brand loyalty during a particularly lengthy or inconvenient supply-chain issue. Those of us managing loyalty programs understand how powerful it is to offer a bit of goodwill during a challenge.
Thank your customers for sticking with you during delays and remind them that your company is worthy of their continued loyalty. Consider giving loyalty program members a gift of rewards points when a product is significantly delayed. If gifting points isn’t an option, you might extend the expiration period on previously earned rewards or upgrade customers’ loyalty status. Then customers receive something of value and the brand has an opportunity to entice them back for future business.
We owe our customers the same loyalty they give us. While supply-chain issues persist, honesty, transparency, and care can minimize customers’ frustration and demonstrate your brand’s trustworthiness. These ongoing hiccups in the supply chain present opportunities for brands to solidify loyalty.
Warren Wiens is vice president, strategic services for The Lacek Group, a Minneapolis-based data-driven loyalty, experience, and customer engagement agency that has been delivering personalization at scale for its world-class clients for more than 30 years. The Lacek Group is an Ogilvy company.