Almost every company talks at length about customer service and the need for excellence in satisfying the needs of its customers but very few put that talk into action. This is particularly true in the bottled water business.
The bottled water industry service a wide customer base with each company in the industry servicing many individual customers. The industry is characterized by a small number of very large firms and a large number of relatively small players with specific geographic niches. But all bottled water providers share the need for customer service.
The Nature of the Business:
The bottled water business consists of the manufacturing and delivery of spring or purified water in small packages and larger containers such as 5 gallon bottles. The product is delivered in company owned delivery trucks or through common carriers directly to the site of the customer. Each bottled water firm in the industry makes an implicit promise to its customers that it will produce the highest quality product and deliver that product to its customers in the manner and time agreed upon.
Many, Many Customers:
The customer base in the bottled water is very diverse ranging from individual consumers with single bottle requirements to large multi cooler business accounts with significant water needs. Each customer has their own specific requirements and the needs of each customer in the customer base are as important as all other customers.
The Customer Service Promise and the History of the Business:
In the past, many firms in the industry have focused on process rather than customer service. Many firms acted on the belief that the product of a superior product completed the obligation to the customer. The customer promise however, included much more that a quality product and required additional services such as on time delivery, proper pricing, responding to additional delivery requests and other customer specific needs. One of the most important customer needs is the requirement to communicate customer concerns to the decision makers in any given firm.
Current Status of the Industry: The Unfulfilled Promise:
Although at first glance the bottled water industry may seem rather simple, it is in reality a very complex business. High quality water must be produced and delivered to the customer’s location on time and as ordered. Often the customer requirements change without warning and flexibility is required to meet these new requirements.
Frequently, the water needs of the customer exceed original expectations and shortages occur. The supplier must have invested in the communication and rolling stock infrastructure to respond to changing demand requirements.
For those suppliers who private label water as a means of customer advertising, the design, printing and durability of the label on the bottle is a critical factor. Those forms that skimp on quality in the design and printing of labels provide an inferior product to their customers.
Communication and the Customer Promise:
Many bottled water suppliers overlook the fact that proper communication channels serve as the basis for fulfilling the customer promise. An over reliance on voice or e-mail, an inability to respond quickly to customer needs and the absence of a true customer service culture has created a negative impression in the mind of many customers.
A proper communication system has many technical elements but it should begin with a willingness to include human contact in the communication link. No customer likes to be dropped into the voicemail void and the bottled water suppliers that prosper and continue to grow are those that require customer service personnel to personally answer and respond to customer inquiries and concerns.
Accept Responsibility and Do What It Takes to Provide Customer Satisfaction:
There are as many excuses for failure to perform but the bottled water suppliers who are truly world class are those who accept responsibility and do what it takes to guarantee customer satisfaction. This often includes realizing little or no profit on a particular transaction in order to fulfill the customer service promise.
Size is not the determinant in the customer service equation. Often, smaller companies are ready, willing and able to better guarantee the fulfillment of the customer promise.
Look for a supplier with a track record of not only making the customer promise but with a history of fulfillment of the promise.