Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Guest blog: Don’t let the ash cloud damage your brand

This week’s volcanic ash clouds are creating havoc not only for air-travel passengers but also for cataloguers shipping orders to overseas customers. Many British catalogues have well-deserved reputations for providing excellent customer service. Here are some proactive ways you can maintain goodwill with your customers in the face of the ongoing overseas shipment delays.

First, contact your courier. Ask Royal Mail, Fedex, or whichever delivery company you use, how the delays are affecting your shipments.

• Which of your shipments had already left the UK before the air space was closed last week?

• Which shipments are in the pipeline at UK airports or other UK transit points now, ready to leave the country once the air space is reopened?

• In view of the likely backlog of shipments once air traffic resumes, how long will it take the shipper to deliver these in-the-pipeline shipments to your customers?

• How long will it take your shipper to deliver any new shipments you give it now?

With this information in-hand, you should post on your website the information about the current shipping delays and your policies for dealing with them. You should also email your customers every couple of days to update them on the status of their orders and your policies.

• Customers whose orders have already left the UK will appreciate the peace of mind of knowing that they should expect to receive them as anticipated.

• Customers whose shipments are stuck in transit and will be substantially delayed will be able to make other arrangements if they need your product immediately. You should seriously consider letting these customers cancel/return their orders at no cost--they will contend that it is not their fault the Iceland volcano chose to erupt while their shipment was sitting at a UK airport. You might also suggest they email you when they receive their shipment, so you can get an idea of how long the shipping process is taking once air shipments resume.

• For new orders, you should advise your customers of the likely length of the shipping delay and offer them the opportunity to cancel if that delay proves to be excessive.

You can also take this opportunity to bond more closely with your customer. Your emails can reinforce your regular good customer service. For instance, you might point out that you normally ship orders within 24 hours and that they typically arrive in the US 10 to 14 days later, but that due to the volcanic ash cloud, the current order will be unavoidably delayed. And, once overseas shipping returns to normal, you might give the affected customers a special thank-you discount on their next purchase.

Many British catalogues have established excellent reputations for their customer service. Taking these proactive steps now can help you retain your customers’ goodwill in the face of the volcanic ash cloud’s impact on overseas shipments.

David Ballard is managing director of Ballard Direct, which has helped a number of British catalogues enter the US market. He can be reached at dballard@ballarddirect.com.

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