Is the customer always right?

Published in the November 2016 issue of Fleet Affiliation

How does one become a preferred vendor or supplier? This has been a recurring topic of discussion with suppliers, upfitters and industry-related vendors over the past year. There is a common phrase in business: “the customer is always right.” As end user customers drive the industry, this is true to a large extent. However, a symbiotic approach may afford better results, lower build times, and deliver the intended result . It may be fair to say that established vendors will absorb some level of customer fault as their own to keep their customers satisfied.

Step in your suppliers’ shoes
Although mind reading might be part of your suppliers’ and vendors’ strategy, it’s not recommended for long-term success. Vendors and suppliers often try to anticipate their customers’ needs, but may not be given a complete picture of the end use of their products. Communicating to stakeholders on the supply side can be a critical junction. Operating on the premise that the customer is always right can only be an absolute to the extent of their effective communication.

Take a step back, talk with your vendors and suppliers, and make sure they clearly understand what products and services you require. Educate them on purchasing policies and strategies, and communicate volume requirements and business requirements. Certain expectations are required by end user customers, and  it is important to communicate them. Beyond that, your vendors and suppliers may have other expectations as well. It is important to ask them what they are. This can forge long-term business relationships that truly become symbiotic.

Who is the face of your company?
From the vendor’s perspective, understanding the actual customer can be a difficult task. From a macro level, their end customer is the company buying the products. However, they may also perceive their customer as the fleet manager, purchasing group, or the actual crew physically using their products. All of these aspects are important, but it is important to send a clear and consistent message from all levels of your organization.

Open communication is a key for success. Being proactive can open up conversations and avoid forgotten details. Understand the functions of your business internally. Stakeholders supplying goods and services need to fully understand operations. If it hasn’t been communicated at the core level, vendors need to know how long equipment is kept, how equipment is maintained, equipment utilization, and operator knowledgeability. Once these communication channels are in place, vendors and suppliers can be in better positions to recommend equipment, products, and services that could potentially reduce end user cost.

Becoming the preferred customer
By this point, it is established that there are preferred and least preferred vendors. As in life, there are two sides to every coin. It has significant benefit to be in a preferred customer category, as many vendors will go a few extra steps – especially for customers that are easy to do business with. Tips to become a preferred supplier:

  • Provide clear, complete communication from A – Z:
    • Indicate how products are used
    • Clarify who communication should be routed through
    • Confirm expectations from customer and supplier.
  • Most importantly, vendors are expected to provide realistic time-lines for delivery.
  • It is equally important to reciprocate in terms of communication responses and payment schedules.
If you would like to discuss this, or any other fleet issue with the NTEA, contact Chris Lyon, NTEA Director of Fleet Relations, at: