One of the most important aspects of any distributor’s operation is customer service. But a new study from TermSync, Inc., a company providing cloud-based solutions for post-sale B2B interactions in the beverage industry, shows that despite an awareness of the importance of making it easy to do business with them, many companies fail to adequately gauge their level of customer service.

Survey results show that while 86 percent of beverage distributors say the quality and level of their customer service differentiates them from the competition, only 22 percent provide customers with an online support option—something 72 percent of survey customer respondentssay they prefer over traditional phone or email support.

In addition, TermSync found only 51 percent of beverage distributors have a requirement for how quickly their customer service team responds to questions or complaints. Worse, only 45 percent say they track customer response time. Over one-third of companies not using an online portal said it was because of other projects’ priority, proving much of these companies’ supposed devotion to the customer was just lip service.

One main obstacle has been confusion over who owns the customer relationship. TermSync found responses split between operations, sales, marketing and account management, which could explain the lack of portals—departments may be unwilling to use their budgets to set up one if they think the customer relationship is someone else’s responsibility.

Food Engineering spoke with TermSync CEO and Founder Mark Wilson about the challenges of customer service in the beverage distribution industry.


Q: How well do customer support phone lines provide basic functionality—invoice payment, asking questions, self-service, feedback?

A: Through traditional phone lines, customers can usually make payments, ask questions and provide feedback. The issue is more with the hassle of using it. Customers today do not want to deal with calling in, waiting for a representative, waiting for someone to pull up the account, etc.  Instead, people want to use a portal to quickly address their issues and move on with their day. Not everyone wants that 100 percent of the time; some still prefer phone support. And major issues still require phone support for most people. But overall, the majority of people now prefer a portal over both phone and email. 


Q: What reasons are given as to why beverage distributors don’t offer a customer portal?

A: Overall, beverage distributors have a good personal relationship with their customers. The distributors mistakenly feel that adding a portal may come between them and their customers when, in fact, it enhances the relationship. People want options, and study after study shows people prefer vendors that offer a portal as an option. 


Q: How does phone support compare to a portal in terms of response time or feedback to a customer?

A: With a portal,  customers can get the answer on their own almost immediately. Phone support usually has a good response, but again, it is annoying for customers to have to call the vendor when they have 100 other things going on. No matter what avenue the vendor uses, responding in a timely manner should always be a top priority.

Q: The failure to identify who in the company owns the customer relationship is a huge point. Is this ownership known when it is a customer support line, and if so, who is that person/position? Why may it be different when it is a portal?

A: For a portal, taking ownership is really who is going to take on the project and make sure it gets done. Virtually all distributors have phone support so that decision and implementation were done years ago. When there is an individual issue, it is usually the responsibility of the customer support rep on the phone. The big difference is portals are newer, and something changed over the last couple years where it went from a nice to have to being something customers expect. Vendors need to realize that and assign someone in the company the responsibility of making sure it gets implemented.