So, Christmas is just around the corner, and retailers and service providers are preparing for the busiest time of the year. With online sales set to challenge traditional retailers, businesses that offer superior customer service via efficient delivery services stand to benefit the most.
Customers rely on goods arriving on time for Christmas and can be highly unforgiving of delays. Small business owners who manage their own deliveries simply cannot risk downtime on their travels and need to think a few steps ahead so they don’t let down their customers.
We spoke to some businesses who manage their own deliveries and fleets to see how they ensure superior customer service over the hectic and stressful holiday season. What do they do when things don’t go to plan?
Christmas delivery checklist
- Anticipate logistical problems (eg. traffic, parking, issues with vehicles, incorrect and hard-to-find addresses, no recipient available to sign for deliveries) and plan accordingly
- Bring in extra drivers if necessary
- Maintain strong relationships with your suppliers, staff and customers so you can spot problems as they arise and before they snowball
- Warn customers early in the lead-up to busy periods and estimate delivery dates/times where possible, while flagging potential delays
- Have a plan in place in case of a vehicle breakdown
Share the driving
Ray Graetz, director of NSW trucking company Coastal Transport Services and 2017 Smart50 listee, takes extra precautions to fulfil client expectations over the busy end-of-year period.
“Everyone in the industry knows it’s so difficult to get extra drivers at the moment, there’s a huge shortage. It’s the most serious problem facing transport right now,” says Graetz.
“We try to ensure we service our own customers without taking on any new work unless we think it will continue after the Christmas holidays.”
Kate Knox, owner of Adelaide’s family-owned fresh delivery service Keane’s Organic Food, enlists the help of extra family members to manage widespread deliveries in the lead-up to Christmas, particularly on the all-important Christmas Eve run.
“From the CBD, we’re [driving] about 30 kms south, 30kms north, and probably the same west and east. So on Christmas… that’s why we have four people help out there, the family on Christmas, so we can hit every area on the same day,” says Knox.
Plan your holiday journey
With many customers taking a zero-tolerance attitude to late deliveries over the holidays, it is crucial to set customer expectations early, secure extra vehicles and drivers, and allow time for contingencies, all the while keeping the wider business implications of the end-of-year rush in mind.
Zoe Gordon, owner of gift delivery service Byron Bay Gifts, acknowledges the sense of urgency and influx of online orders at this time of year can make processing deliveries much more complex.
“The closer we get to Christmas, the longer delivery times take and the more people really want their parcels quicker,” says Gordon, adding that the sheer volume of orders means managing same-day dispatch can be tougher than usual. “It definitely makes things slower.”
Knox, who specialises in perishable, weather-dependent produce, sets customer expectations early and allows time for unexpected occurrences.
“We make sure people know about it a month in advance. We’ll plan the day they get their boxes, and we’ll tell them the day that they’ll get their boxes,” she says.
“We’ll get produce in the night before so if anything’s short we’ve at least got that day (Christmas Eve) to fix it up and make sure it still gets to the customer.”
Graetz plans ahead for busier traffic on the roads but also manages risk by bringing in extra resources to service customers over the holiday season.
“We’ll start people earlier. It involves extra cost, but you’ve just to cop that. You can’t expect to make money in December and January in the transport industry,” he says, “so that has a cash flow implication. We always try to make sure we’ve got cash up our sleeve. It’s all about planning ahead.”
While planning ahead is imperative, even best-laid plans will inevitably go wrong. Relaying setbacks internally between staff as well as with suppliers and customers is critical to get things back on track.
“Most people experienced in logistics know full well that a lot of things go wrong in the busy period. We have very strong communications with all our drivers and customers. We’ve got GPS, we know exactly where everything is at all times,” says Graetz, adding that if there are unavoidable road delays or incidents, “the best thing is to ensure that you keep the customer informed”.
Knox maintains communication with her drivers by phone in case any issues arise on the Christmas Eve run, but also fosters strong relationships with her organic suppliers, who in turn warn her when certain produce is unavailable so the business can make alternative plans.
“They know how our business runs. So they know if something’s not there they need to tell us so we can get something else instead,” she says.
Don’t be afraid to give it the personal treatment
For SMEs who manage their own deliveries, adopting a personalised approach can allow them to offer superior customer service compared to larger courier services.
“If you’ve got specific customers that you know are a little bit on edge, send them a message and say ‘we expect to be at your house in three hours’. I think people like the personal touch. People like that it’s not coming from just someone who doesn’t care,” says Knox.
Gordon, who has the option to rely on third-party courier services, also finds doing local deliveries around the Byron Bay area can confer a distinct advantage for customer service with urgent gift requests.
“We will sometimes drop off our own parcels locally [for areas] that may take a week or so for a courier to deliver to, but it takes us 20 minutes to drive there,” she says.
“There’s a lot of holiday accommodation here so often people will ring us and say ‘Can you please deliver something today, and it has to be today’ because the person is checking out tomorrow… we can actually take it to them without having to rely on couriers.”
Graetz aptly sums up the need to put customers’ needs first and maintain personalised contact when gearing up for deliveries over the busy holiday season.
“It’s all about planning and communication, all of it. We are not in the transport industry at all, we’re in the communications business. That’s what it’s all about.”
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