For years, business owners have prided themselves on delivering excellent customer service.
But lately, business owners have actually had to deliver. That is, companies that never intended to take products or services directly to a customer's home are having to do just that.
There's a reason for this trend. People have become very accustomed to having products sent to their homes, thanks to the ongoing popularity of online shopping. Supermarkets have jumped on the delivery bandwagon, and there are even mobile veterinary clinics that will come to a pet owner's home.
Businesses want to offer stellar customer service, so all of the companies jumping into delivery encourages even more brands to take the leap.
“Customers expect items to be delivered quickly. Businesses have to adapt and deliver items like never before or risk losing market share," says Shaun Savage, founder and CEO of GoShare, a San Diego-based website that connects truck and van owners with businesses that need help with delivery.
But if you really want to deliver both your product or service and good customer service, there are a few discussions you'll want to have first with yourself and your team.
1. Crunch the numbers.
Good customer service sometimes isn't cheap.
When you start delivering, it's going to cost you money in buying delivery cars or vans, hiring drivers and paying for more insurance. Or perhaps you'll hire a third party to do your deliveries for you. That, of course, still costs money—typically, at least 15 to 30 percent for restaurants, according to Nation's Restaurant News.
—Kevin Hsu, co-founder, Pokéworks
You can pay a third party in miles or time. Savage says that he has different agreements with different businesses, but pricing for a standard pickup truck through his company is $0.99 “per minute from pickup to drop off, plus a $10 base fee. Cargo vans are $1.29 per minute, and box trucks are $1.49 per minute."
Whatever means you decide to use, the numbers need to work out. You want to make sure that you're not just delivering products or services to people, but that you're receiving more money than all of this is going to cost.
2. Determine if delivery will actually help you provide great customer service.
If you can successfully deliver your product or service to customers at home, obviously you've got a winning formula. If you can't, you could chase customers away.
This is especially important for restaurants to consider. If a hardware store delivers a leaf blower to a homeowner, that leaf blower isn't going to operate any differently than if the customer bought it in the store. But a bowl of soup may not make the trip quite as well.
“It was definitely a concern we had to address," says Kevin Hsu, a co-founder and chief marketing officer at Pokéworks, a New York City-based franchise that sells Hawaiian-inspired poke, a raw fish salad, in states around the country.
Pokéworks was founded in 2015, but it wasn't all that long after—December 2016—that the company began delivering their food. They made the leap into delivery after receiving a lot of requests from customers who wanted their meals brought to them.
Hsu says he and others at the company were concerned about cannibalizing restaurant sales. But in the end, they decided it made sense from a customer service standpoint, and felt that delivery would help them pick up more market share.
But going from “hey, let's do this" to actually doing it took some experimentation. After all, nobody wants to eat food that tastes like it isn't fresh. And nobody wants to open a container and wonder if the deliverer hit a couple dozen speed bumps during the trip.
“In the beginning, we had to do test orders to make sure that the delivery was being picked up and delivered to its destination in a timely manner," Hsu says.
They also had to research food holder containers, to make sure the product stayed at the proper temperature. It's all about maintaining your customer service—in your business or out of it.
“Even today, we continually work with the third parties to see what improvements we can make to the process," Hsu says.
3. Study how delivery will affect everything else.
Maybe you can hire a third party to deliver your product without it causing too much of a ripple effect to the rest of your business.
But odds are, it's going to have some effect on, well, your marketing budget, your information technology department, human resources and your operations, for starters. If your business has more than one location, offering delivery may become a very big deal.
“Corporately, we committed substantial internal resources within our IT and marketing departments to ensure the successful launch and ongoing support of the program to ensure that our franchise partners were set up for success," says David Bloom, chief development officer at Capriotti's Sandwich Shop, a national franchise headquartered in Las Vegas.
In other words, expect to spend a lot of time and money if you're going to add a delivery component. It may pay off. One of Capriotti's locations in Chicago started delivering in January 2017 and one year later saw its delivery and catering sales increase by 500 percent.
But, again, delivery can affect everything. If you're going to work with a third party, you need to really get to know the company and trust them, says Doug Willmarth, chief marketing officer at Mongolian Concepts, the company behind bd's Mongolian Grill, a Mongolian restaurant that specializes in stir-fry and has 23 locations around the country.
The delivery company you'll use will also be representing your business. How those employees present themselves, when they show up and how they handle things if something goes wrong all reflects back to your brand, according to Willmarth.
"That is scary stuff because you don't have control or much ability to apply a recovery strategy when things go wrong," he says.
With this in mind, you'll want to work with a third-party delivery company that, if something does go wrong, will be on heightened alert to fix any customer service problems. Because plenty can go wrong with delivery. But fortunately, plenty can go right, too.
Read more articles on customer relations.