Q & A Tom Jowers - Establishing Yourself as a Preferred Provider
In today’s delivery industry you must put your best foot forward and dominate by means of logistical excellence and superior customer service. Performance will set you apart from your competition. Superior performance will significantly contribute to...
In this month’s column, Thomas Jowers, a CLDA board member and VP and Chief Operating Officer of ADL Delivery offers his advice about positioning your company to be the first provider on a customer’s list.
ADL Delivery is one of the largest overnight delivery networks in the Southeast United States with 18 offices and more than 500 independent contract drivers. Founded in 1999, ADL Delivery is a family-owned and operated logistics company. Originally, ADL specialized in business-to-business parcel delivery and fleet replacement for the wholesale automotive industry. Today, it has expanded its services to include truckload deliveries, less than truckload deliveries, pallet deliveries, break bulk, distribution and warehousing services. Jowers attributes the company’s tremendous growth to its ability to get ahead of customer needs. “Our goal is simple,” he says, “To provide hassle-free, professional and timely delivery services to our customers that free them to focus on their business.” He shares some of his company’s tips on becoming your customers’ first choice.
Many companies think the key to success is to react to customer demands when they make them. You’re saying you’ve got to have an idea of what they’ll want before they do. Is that right?
Yes. We want to be a market leader. Not a follower. When you’re just reacting, instead of innovating, you’re always in catch-up mode. As such, you’re never quite sure of what you should be doing and why. If you innovate, you put yourself in the position of being a Preferred Provider.
Just because you’re seen as a Preferred Provider, it doesn’t insulate you from pricing issues, right?
In my opinion pricing issues, while always important, can be balanced with the service provided. Once you’re seen as the Preferred Provider your customers will recognize that and will help promote your company and what you bring to the table. Of course you need to establish a value for your services, but if you put too much emphasis on being the low-cost provider it will eventually be seen as the only thing that separates you from the competition. And there’s always someone who wants the business enough to underprice you to get it. You want to be the “best choice” provider, not necessarily the “low cost” provider.
What establishes your company as a Preferred Provider?
For me there are three things that set a Preferred Provider apart: meeting customers’ needs today and tomorrow; understanding the competition and their performance and delivering ongoing, superior service. Since many of us in the logistics industry provide multiple services you need to look at these three factors for each of them.
Ask yourself: How do we compare? What are the opportunities to be a leader in our market? How do you exploit these opportunities? Who can you partner with to make this happen? With an assessment like this you can better analyze and see what you need to do to become a leader. At a minimum, answering these questions will give you a better idea of what services you want to develop to lead (and not just follow) the pack.
Because of the nature of our business, we deal with customers on regular basis. Surely we understand what they need, right?
I believe that one thing you should never do is to assume you know your customers’ need and want. Spending time with your customers and learning what they want and why they want them should be your preferred method of developing a strategy to exceed customer expectations. Your goal is to develop a true partnership with your customers. Once you’ve done this, it’s not over. Constantly revisit your customers’ needs. Get their feedback on what you’re doing now and what they’d like you to do in the future. In this industry it’s virtually impossible to stay in business without focusing on the customer. You need to continually analyze the specific and future needs of your customers and develop programs specific to those current and upcoming needs.
You mentioned looking at your competitors. Talk about that.
You need to relentlessly ask yourself what you really know about your competition. Do you know their rates? How do they develop their pricing models? What makes them true competitors and what can you do today (or tomorrow) to assert your competitive advantage over them? You can’t understand your competitive advantage until you know what they do well and where there’s room for improvement.
So how would you sum up what it takes to be a Preferred Provider?
An understanding of what is expected by your customers; knowledge of how your competitors are meeting those expectations; intelligence about how your customers’ needs are changing and the creativity to think of new ways to be the first to respond to those needs as they develop. Being a Preferred Provider won’t make you immune to pricing pressure from customers, but it will set up a partnership with your customers that helps fend off those competitors who only offer lower prices. And remind your customers of the true cost of going with a low cost provider.