SMU Data and Models

Steel Buyers Basics: Superior Customer Service

Written by Mario Briccetti

The following article was written by Mario Briccetti of Briccetti & Associates who is also one of our instructors for Steel 101 as well as our Sales Training Workshop. Today Mario discusses outstanding customer service and what it means from a purchasing perspective:

What does it mean when a supplier has outstanding customer service?  Does such service translate into loyal customers, higher sales and better margins?  In our Steel Training workshops we go over this issue and talk about what outstanding customer service really means.

In my experience what a supplier thinks is outstanding service is simply what buyers expect — on-time delivery, quality product, correct paperwork, a person at the end of the phone that answers every time.  Buyers expect all suppliers to have these characteristics and anything short of 100% performance is a negative.  

So then what is outstanding service?  To me outstanding service has to be more than products and processes, it has to be about people.  Let me illustrate that point with a few stories.

While I was with Nordyne we purchased bent steel tubing from Beckett Gas; we found a local supplier who was significantly less expensive and Beckett could not meet their delivered price — so we decided to move ½ of the business.  When told of our decision Beckett said that they would send their engineer to our new supplier to make sure they didn’t fail making the part so service at Nordyne was not interrupted.

When Director of Heating Engineering at Nordyne, we had a problem with an air pressure switch – the tolerance on the specifications we gave our supplier was not correct and we had to halt production.  Our supplier replaced all the switches at no cost but, more than that, he went to our customers and management and took the complete blame for the problem.  We always specified this manufacturer after that.

When at Metal Sales, we had a problem with paint quality and looked for a competitive coating line that could solve the problem.  The salesman for the new paint line was also experienced in paint line operations and promised they could solve the issue.  We gave him steel to trial and after 36 hours of non-stop work he was ready to show me the results – 99.9% of the problem disappeared.  I was delighted (and very relieved since we needed the steel) so I gave him the OK to run full production.  Our salesman (remember he had already been working on the line for 36 hours straight) wouldn’t take yes for an answer.   He thought they could do better so he worked another shift and our problem went away completely.  

When at Metal Sales, we didn’t order enough of a particular gauge/size of steel – totally our fault.  However our supplier’s customer service representative worked with her other customers to move orders around so we could get our steel.  She knew precisely what variation in steel size we could accept, she knew exactly what was in the mill’s schedule, she had friends inside the organization that would do favors for her and in the end found a way to get us what we needed.  We didn’t make this mistake often, but I can’t say we did it only once, so knowing we could rely on our CSR fix our problems meant we kept them as our main supplier.  

In my view, customer service has two components – first a well-run company with good product and processes; second, a person-to-person dedication that really honestly puts the customer first.  As a buyer, I expected the first level of service and penalized those without it.  However, the second level of service I cherished and was loath to give up no matter what the savings (well almost no matter the savings).

The point is that reliable suppliers need the first level simply to stay in business.  Most suppliers are close enough to this level or they simply disappear.  However suppliers at this level compete with each other based on the total cost vs. value of their product – their customers are not really loyal.  It’s only that rare and precious second level of service that really creates “stickiness” and true loyalty with a customer.

For more information about customer service training, sales and purchasing training and our Steel 101: Introduction to Steel Making & Market Fundamentals workshops please contact our office: or by phone: 800-43203475.

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