Transparency sets successful businesses apart

As businesses worldwide struggle with extraordinary challenges in moving freight and rising product costs, it’s become increasingly difficult to meet client expectations in terms of selection, inventory, shipping timelines and costs. We’re all committed to satisfying customer needs with minimal service disruptions, but what happens when you just can’t?

When erratic market conditions wreak havoc with your typical processes and schedules, the one thing you can control is the support you provide to both internal and external audiences. Transparent, open, honest communication sets successful businesses apart in good times and becomes all the more critical in challenging ones.

Transparency is one of the core values that drives COE Distributing, and it’s been key in getting us through the trials of COVID-19 and the supply chain quagmire that quickly followed on the heels of the pandemic. When my team had to announce first a price increase and then a shipping surcharge on our private label furniture brand within three weeks of each other, clear messaging for all stakeholders was critical.

Staff at all levels of our organization needed to be educated on our new policies and the reasons for them so we could provide a unified response to customers. Open and honest communication with clients builds trust, and we wanted to make it evident that earning and keeping our customers’ trust is our ultimate goal.

We explained the three factors driving staggering ocean freight price increases and provided concrete examples of how the situation had dramatically worsened. We explained how it was compounded by spikes in inland domestic freight and raw materials costs between the announcement of our first price increase and the announcement of our surcharge.

Without these increases, our business simply couldn’t restock product and our customers would, in turn, be left without inventory to sell. The price increases enabled all of us to survive, and we communicated that honestly through a letter to customers, talking points for our customer service representatives and an FAQ document for all our employees. Once everyone understood the market dynamics behind the changes, we shifted the focus of our communication to my favorite topic — how we will always work to add value for customers.

While it may not be feasible right now to get the exact desks customers want in the timeframe they want them, our customers will know our entire team is working to keep a steady flow of new product into our facilities and coming up with creative solutions to meet their needs in the meantime.

We promised, and continue to deliver, consistent updates on shipping statuses and support throughout the ordering and delivery process, including marketing tools and educational support to make it easier for our customers to sell and implement new pricing structures, if necessary. We also offer suggestions for product substitutions from our $100 million worth of in-stock inventory to help meet customer needs in the quickest timeframe possible and highlight immediately available product lines in weekly eblasts.

Our management team always encourages the sales group to stay in close contact with clients, and we’ve boosted those efforts exponentially since March 2020. Reps check in frequently with clients to assess their needs and assure them we’re available to help them achieve their goals.

Strengthened relationships with our clients are a silver lining of the tough business conditions we’ve all weathered together in the past 18 months, and we can all benefit from building on those relationships, now and in better times ahead.

J.D. Ewing is chairman and CEO of COE Distributing