One Way to Handle Supply Chain Issues With Clients? Brutal Honesty
“Your third option is you don’t get your beach towels in time for your event.”
That’s a phrase none of our clients want to hear. Nor a phrase any of us wants to say.
But supply shortages are everywhere. And it’s not just promo. Patio furniture. Copper. Lumber. Tires. Chicken. Beef. Pork. Even coffee consumption will outpace production this year.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. When our supply chain is suffering crippling raw materials shortages and shipping delays, brutal honesty is the only way to protect projects and salvage clients.
When I asked Michael Krauser, president and chief operating officer of Trend Brand Solutions based out of Houston Texas, what his No. 1 tip was for managing clients successfully through this season, he responded with two ideas: proactive messaging and brutal honesty.
Mike leads the solutions team at Trend, a team that successfully executes thousands of web transactions and shipments a year. I asked Mike what he meant by brutal honesty, he replied, “it’s just what it sounds like, being direct and honest about a project plus, sharing the details with the client.”
“Can you give me an example?” I asked Mike.
“Sure,” he said. “I recently had to tell a client whose project was on hold due to production issues, that they had three options, and after sharing with them two other product ideas I told them, frankly, ‘Your third option is that you don’t get the beach towels in time.’”
“But that seems so counterintuitive to what we’ve been saying for years,” I replied. “That we should never say ‘no’ and that we should never involve the clients in the details.”
“Exactly,” said Mike. “And I would never suggest it except that these are unforeseen times when it comes to stock issues. And what we’re doing is helping a client realize that these issues aren’t because of our performance or unwillingness; these are global problems. We never want to misguide a client or offer them false hopes, we want them to understand we’re their partner and want their projects to succeed, but they need to realize how dire the situation is, which means involving them in the details. It also helps them realize that we’re on it, we’re working on their projects, keeping them updated, and that it’s a fluid situation, particularly when these aren’t merely daily challenges, but hourly. Most clients appreciate knowing.”
Sharing the details is another rule we’re breaking in this fragile climate. Mike and his team distributed a message to clients warning them of stock issues, citing news headlines that featured consumer goods shortages so that clients would understand it’s not a service issue; it’s a global problem.
“Drawing it back to comparisons where they live helps put the industry’s issues in context of the worldwide shortages," he said.
Mike and his team shared this message about the vulnerable supply chain, but they also shared ideas on how their clients could get ahead of the problem. Trend Brand’s message included the need for forecasting future projects to mitigate last-minute orders. Plus, they detail solutions only they could provide: ordering early and then storing merchandise in their warehouse, or building a website to help collect orders to offset supply challenges in the future.
Proactive messaging, brutal honesty and involving the client in the details help affirm trust, build empathy, and secures the client’s attention when you need critical answers to moment-by-moment projects.
John Williams, president of the New York Federal Reserve, recently shared that the coronavirus outbreak had an enormous shock on supply and demand. And when companies like Starbucks—whose monumental buying power surely commands better supply resources than the average company—are short on ingredients because of stock issues, then you know it’s a global problem that can be empathized by all.
The key is to evoke the customer’s empathy while securing their trust through honest communication while providing proactive solutions, not just day-by-day, but hour-by-hour.
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