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How to Communicate With Customers About Supply Chain Problems As delays in the supply chain mount, it's vital that the lines of communication with your customers remain open.

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This story was originally published on CO— by U.S. Chamber of Commerce and was written by Emily Heaslip.

It's no secret that the supply chain is currently in chaos. However, despite customers' awareness of these issues, it's still unclear for many how these global delays will impact their daily lives. Business owners will need to be extra diligent in their communication — especially as the holiday shopping season kicks off — to manage customers' expectations. Here are some key steps to take now.

Try to minimize delays in the first place

Ideally, the best option is to prevent supply chain problems before they happen. One way to do this is to place orders even earlier than normal to bolster your inventory. "Even though the supply chain is the slowest it has been in the 40 years I have been in the business, we have mitigated the impact by being proactive with both the timing and quantities of our orders," said Henry Tushar of Socksmith Design, Inc.

Related: 5 Small Business Owners' Best Advice for Managing Supply Chain Challenges

Consider diversifying your suppliers, distributors and other partners to mitigate the risk of delays. It may cost more, but if one stream gets jammed, you'll still be able to cover your bases.

Even with advance preparation, there still may be delays or shortages. If you have an online store, keeping your inventory current will ensure customers see messages like "only a few left in stock" or "back-ordered until January" in real-time. This transparency will help you avoid disappointing customers.

Over-communicate with your customers

Don't be afraid to be transparent with customers about supply chain issues. As Salesforce recommends, "Transparency goes a long way in building relationships. Customers would rather know about potential supply issues now than be hit with delays after they've placed their orders."

To that end, over-communicate in all three of these areas when talking to customers about supply chain issues:

  • In-store messaging: Be sure that everyone on your staff can communicate clearly about when items will be back in stock and what else to offer as an alternative. Empower your team to help right on the spot, rather than having to ask a manager for permission.
  • On your website: Place a banner or message on the homepage. For example: "Order by November 15 for arrival by Christmas." Make sure shipping times and delivery dates are abundantly clear in your order process.
  • On your social media channels: Social media is a place to develop fans, not just gain customers. Think of it as an opportunity to address your customers' concerns, including late deliveries

Need a little inspiration? Sara Swan, owner of a specialty furniture retailer, used Instagram to showcase that her company was able to ship fast and free to local customers. "We pushed our message and shared every step of our journey on Instagram, and our following grew from 2k to 50k within a year."

Be ready with your customer-facing actions

Even with all that planning and over-communication, you still may end up with some upset customers.

Empower your team to address unhappy customers and try to make it right. This could mean waiving shipping fees or adding a free item to an order as a thank you to a customer for the wait. If someone's angry, tell your team to escalate the issue to yourself or a manager who will have the training to mitigate the problem. Remember, during the shopping rush, your staff may be dealing with a lot of stress, so do your best to help boost morale during this exceptionally busy time.

Related: Do You Have a Supply Chain Backup Plan? How to Plan Ahead

Don't overlook the value of trust

Ultimately, these supply chain issues are likely to be short-lived. The impact of how you handle these delays, however, could have long-term consequences.

In a recent report, global communications firm Edelman found that trust trumps love: Customers rated "I trust it" (88%) above "I love it" (81%) in deciding which brand to choose over another. Trust is built on transparency: Being upfront about the supply chain issues you are experiencing will help garner brand trust from your customers and encourage them to frequent your store well into the future.

Experts are predicting that the supply chain issues could improve by the second quarter of 2022, but not necessarily for all industries. By over-communicating with your customers and putting a plan in place now, you should be able to keep them happy.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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