Just Ask Jim: How to Handle Priority Customers During Busy Times

We all have them — the big customer who is difficult to service. They know they are important, so they do not often give advance notice on changes, or they may add on to their order or delay at the last minute. This, obviously, causes problems as no salesman wants to deny a priority customer, and sometimes the best way to appease these issues with a largescale client ends up disserving another smaller customer (I.e., moving trucks to fit the big order). Things like this are bound to happen, and most customers will understand as long as you don’t burn them twice in a row. However, there may be a better solution … 

Organize priority customers to reduce order issues

Start by categorizing your customers into three groups. Each group has one third of your volume. The first are your high priority customers; the “kings.” One third of your volume of kings may be less than 5 percent of your customer list. The middle third of your volume are the second tier, or important customers that I call the “nobles.” (Sticking with the medieval analogies, here.) This group may be 20 percent of your customer list. These are the ones you do your best to serve, but may get bumped if a king needs the trucks. The last third of your volume is the bottom tier, which I will avoid calling the peasants, therefore abandoning the medieval references.

Sales will try to have a large list of priority customers so they can avoid telling their client “no.” However, your production team will want the list to be only one or two customers long. And management will vary the list depending on who called to complain loudest and last. These three departments can fight it out, but whenever a decision is made, you need to communicate the results to the dispatchers.

Communicate clearly with your dispatch team to best serve priority customers

One way to best update your dispatchers is with a list. The other option is to have several credit codes turned on to display whenever an order is entered or accessed. This is done in the credit code file by ticking the box in front of the “display credit code” description. The three credit codes are “AAA Ok to sell,” “AA OK to sell,” and “A OK to sell.” Obviously, the AAA is top priority, AA is mid-priority and A is the lower tier. (They all have “A” in the description, so if word gets out you can say that all of your customers are “A customers.”)

This will let the dispatchers know how to respond to an order request. The kings will hear, “Yes sir or ma’am.” The Nobles will hear, “Can you take that at HH:MM?” And the bottom tier will hear, “We can get it there at HH:MM.”

Remember, the problem is when a priority customer wants concrete on short notice and you have no trucks available. The goal is to get all priority customers into the schedule first, followed by the nobles then the lower tier. If all priority customers are in first, then no one gets hurt. 

To get the priority customers in first, you can try training them, but that didn’t work did it? Since the list of priority customers is relatively small, assign your customer service representatives a few customers each to call every day and get the order in as early as possible. At the very least, they should get an indication of what they are planning. On slow days, the CSRs could visit their jobsites and bond with the superintendent. Sometimes, coffee and donuts in person speak louder than words over the phone.

You could also avoid taking orders for the low-priority customers altogether on known busy times, like mornings during the week, or end of week rushes on Thursday and Friday. 

If priority customers are in first, it is easy to fit the others around them. For example, my company had a policy that if sales told dispatch that they have to take an order for a customer when booked up, that salesperson had to choose the truck donors from the schedule and also had to call them with the bad news. That stopped forcing orders into the schedule in a very short time.

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