We all know that as motor carriers our objective is continually to haul at capacity with reasonable rates creating a reasonable profit. The trick in being able to accomplish this goal is summed up in two words “Customer Service.” And for Customer Service, we must first define, “Who are our customers?” For the small trucking company, this means anyone who contracts with you to haul freight; including brokers, shippers, 3PLs, etc. For the purpose of this article, when it refers to shippers, just keep that list in mind. But what is customer service? To answer this, we must ask another question: What are shippers looking for in a Motor Carrier? The idiom, “Walk a mile in another man’s shoes,” is the best way to approach the answer. Looking at what we would require of a trucking company and its drivers if we were in need of their hauling services is the best way to determine what our customers need. Like any workable plan, you must begin with a solid foundation. The cornerstone of this foundation, which a shipper is going to look for is Communication. Without an excellent transmission of information from the hauler to the shipper and his receiver, everything else within your customer service plan comes to a screeching halt. The next stone in line of importance is Say what you’ll do; do what you say. Nothing can destroy a business relationship quicker than promising an action will occur—and then it doesn’t. The other side of this coin is, don’t promise more than your company and drivers are capable of delivering. No Surprises means you and your drivers don’t let the unexpected surprise the customer by not communicating. There are always situations and events over which the driver, you, or the shippers have no control. When one of these situations occurs which is going to affect a promise, you or your driver immediately need to contact all parties concerned. They may not be happy with what’s happened, but it gives them opportunity and time to make necessary adjustments to their plan. Anticipate potential problems and have solutions for these problems to be presented to your shipper if they should occur. Since we live in an unpredictable world, your best preparation is to be ready for worst-case scenarios. Honesty and Truth are virtues which will always work towards a win-win hauling experience. If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said. No matter how bad it seems, when you explain what happened to your shipper in an honest and truthful manner, a complete picture and accurate details will make the situation easier to handle and move more quickly to resolution. To complete this rock-solid customer service foundation, we must never forget Safety. Not much else can sour a shipper’s attitude towards a trucking company more than an avoidable, preventable mishap. Although the shipper may never see the driver doing a pre-trip or post-trip inspection, or constant and consistent in-transit load and equipment observations, or the vigilance in defensive safe driving habits, these activities insure the on-time arrival and as-shipped condition of the shipper’s product or goods at destination. And we all know a foundation is nothing more than a base from which to build. To really build the proper customer service plan, you must continue placing stone by stone on this foundation, thus building the walls of success. To set you apart from the crowd, there are additional components necessary for a successful customer service plan. The idea here is to go beyond satisfied customers and create raving fans. 1. Quality, Quality, Quality. Think in terms of creating, doing, and providing quality in every facet of your operation. 2. Exceed your customers’ Expectations. Don’t just meet your shippers’ needs; go the extra miles to create more value in your services, making you more valuable to them. 3. Clean, Neat, and Uniform. Your driver and his equipment meeting these criteria gives your shipper the confidence of knowing he picked the right company to haul his goods. First impressions are lasting, but if you don’t maintain or improve on that first impression you will eventually be sent searching for other shippers. 4. Show everyone in your organization Cares about the shipper’s load, time, personnel, property, and money by watching all the details. Everything from precision-crafting the shipping contract, to how the load is secured, to your driver: being there when expected, being courteous with both the shipper’s and receiver’s employees, keeping off the grass, just kissing the dock with your company trailer, and being aware mistakes, delays and accidents cost everyone. 5. Have the entire load be Uneventful. The only events that happen are the ones that are planned and known in advance. Have a deliberate routine and follow it. Those walls, which you’ve built stone by stone, will house your thriving, successful, profitable trucking business. Timothy D. Brady is • A 20 + year award-winning trucking veteran. • Trucking Expert on Sirius Road Dog Trucking Radio. • Heard in podcasts on http://AmericanRigRadio.com . • Author of best-selling trucking business books and columnist for top trucking industry publications. • Join Brady in the Trucking Business Community at TruckersU.com (www.truckersu.com). It’s where you can achieve business and financial success, by becoming a part of the solution. Contact him at email@example.com or call (731) 749-8567.