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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Customer Focused Ideas You Can Steal From CN

Customer Focused Ideas You Can Steal From CN
Posted: Oct 9, 2013 03:57 PM | Last Updated: Oct 9, 2013 03:57 PM

TORONTO — There was a lot to learn at the 27th Annual Conference on Transportation Innovation and Technology yesterday. And lots of great ideas to steal, too.

Increasingly, it's becoming clear that you if you want to be competitive in flat growth business environment, it's going to be about your relationship with your customers.

CN's Tim Roulston, director of sales intermodal, spoke about their recent customer focused initiative that came from their CEO, Claude Mongeau.

Called Customer First, the program is, as Roulston explained it, "about putting our customer at the forefront again. It's about becoming an entire supply chain enabler, so we're taking the entire process, rolling ourselves into it, explaining how we fit, how we can drive efficiencies within our customers' organizations and at the end of the day, hopefully both be more profitable."

Roulston went on to share some specific tactics of that program, ones that you can pull and retrofit your own organization with:

Embrace Your Customer for All of Who They Are

"We go out and embrace ourselves with the customer. We do top-to-top meetings," Roulstan explained. That means their CEO or chief financial officer are always "in front of the customers on a daily basis, driving home the fact that we are back, we're serious, we're great partners, we really want to work together and discover their whole supply chain and be a part of it."

Bring Your Customers Together

Customer forums. Roulston stressed their importance, adding that all their business groups hold forums. "It's hard to say that someone in the crude business might have a similar issue in regards to logistics as somebody in the lumber business or someone in the commodity business. So we get those communities together in forums that are directly related to our chiefs of staff and we get some really good feedback out of those conversations."

Pay Your Employee to Work at Your Customer's

Want a new perspective on how well you're sertving your customer? Send them to work at their offices for a day. "Our account managers go out and they are with our customer the entire day," Roulstan explained. "They become one of them, they know the struggles they go through daily, they discover efficiencies or inefficiencies with dealing with CN and how we can make those better."

Social Media or "Voice of the Customer Surveys"

CN is listening. Roulston called CN's social media properties "Voice of the Customer Surveys. We're really excellent at Twitter, at Facebook, at LinkedIn and everything that's modern today where we can get somesort of customer feedback — we really appreciate all of that and go after it."

Sustainability Isn't Just about Greenwashing Your Brand

"Bottom line is that if you think sustainability is not important, you're wrong." Roulston said.

Sustainability isn't just saying 'Hey, we're a railroad and we put less greenhouse gas in the air than a trucker does,'" Roulston explained. "We recognize that without the trucking components on the first mile and last mile, we really wouldn't have a service."

It's about putting a program in place, telling everyone about it and then staying with that program, Roulston said. And then telling that story to you're customers.

"I see bid processes go across my desk everyday," Roulston said, and in the last year-and-a-half, he's seen sustainability go roughly from "a five percent importance to a 15 percent importance as far as bid processes go."

You're not just making decisions on greenhouse gases, you're making decisions on how you recycle your diesel, lubricants, on making efficiencies in staffing — even paper plates — all sorts of things. "Please, get involved and tell the story."

This Technology Thing Might be Important

Roulston said that at some major North American retailers, the important thing at the end of the day is being able to communicate where the product is in the supply chain versus having the product in the supply chain and delivering it.

"The information is absolutely critical — knowing where it is all the time. "In-transit inventories" — a recent buzzword — means that retailers are getting away from inventories, Roulston explained. "They are putting it in units and that in-transit inventory is measured, and it's very important to know where that is in the process."

Wholesalers are hitting CN's website 25,000 times a month, at four-minutes and change a time — "they have two people full time that they use to hit our website. Our e-connectivity can take that to almost none."

Exception reporting tells CN customers every event that wasn't supposed to happen so customers know what's happening to their product that morning, afternoon, and night. "Then we match that with our customer service. So not only do you get notification on your Blackberry that something has happened to your unit, the person that's in charge of your account gets the exception reporting as well. So when the customer calls, we know exactly what they are calling about. It saves a lot of time in monitoring and makes the whole process that much more efficient."

Sharing is Caring

CN shares results frequently. "We talk to our customers sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, sometimes daily."

They also use software that tells them every event that's happening, per customer, per train, per box. They can measure the time it takes for a trucker to enter gate and exit gate. "Average time? 35 minutes. (Our operating people are rewarding for efficiencies in all of this.)

"I can say to our customers that truck 123 has spent on average 60 minutes in our terminals. So what's he doing? Is he filling out his logbook? You don't sit at our terminals too long; you get served."

Keep Your Balance

Recognize who the stakeholders are in your organization, Roulston said. "Recognize their balance, and when you're working through the day-to-day, never get unbalanced."

Be True to Your Customers

"Make your intentions true — tell your customers what you're doing, tell them why you're doing it and meet with them as often as you can."

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