One of the most endearing qualities of the electrical wholesaling industry is that you don't need an MBA from an Ivy League school to know what it takes for an electrical distributor to be successful. If an electrical supply house can consistently get their customers the right product, in the right quantity to right place at the right time — at a fair price — they will probably survive.

But Electrical Wholesaling's editors wanted to dig deeper into what distributors' customers want from their distributors, so we worked with David Gordon, president, Channel Marketing Group, Durham, N.C., to develop a series of surveys of the 130,000-plus readers of Electrical Construction & Maintenance magazine (EC&M), EW's sister publication in Penton's Electrical Group.

We were delighted with the response to our survey on customer service and got more than 500 responses from electrical contractors, facility maintenance personnel, engineers and other electrical professionals. One of the questions we asked EC&M readers was, “If you could have all of your electrical distributors in the same room for 20 minutes, what would you tell them about how they could do a better job of providing electrical products and services to you?”

You can learn more from some of the responses to this question about what makes this industry tick than you could in a graduate-level business class. The question apparently got George Torres, Chili Electric, Los Lunas, N.M., fired up, and he responded with some of the best customer feedback you will read anywhere. An edited version of his comments follow here.

“In my line of work, I don't have time to be waiting on quotes and answers to requests for availability, nor do I have time to follow back-orders on a daily basis,” he said. “Quick turnaround of requests is extremely important to me, and proactive follow up on back-orders and special orders would certainly avoid last-minute delivery issues.

“Training of your inside and outside salespeople should not be limited to product introductions and sales techniques. An emphasis should be placed on training your sales staff to understand how the construction trades work. And when you learn about a new product, why don't your salespeople share the information with your customers? Also, your quotations people need to understand that a quote received even one minute late is worthless and only serves to waste the estimator's time.

“It's essential that deliveries be correct and on time. Make sure that if your truck routinely delivers by mid-morning you notify the contractor when you will not be making your delivery at the normal time. When we have returns for credit, please pick up those items and issue the credits promptly. We do not want items for return to be sitting around in our warehouse, and we don't need to have paperwork sitting on our desk while we wait for the credits to be issued.

“Your auto-attendant phone system is great, but when we leave a message, please respond to it promptly. Same with e-mails. Your web order entry system is great. But we don't understand your abbreviations, and too often can't find items because you did not take the time to associate key words with your items and you did not consistently use the same abbreviations for words.”

Patrick Almquist, an EC&M reader at Ocean Spray Cranberries' Tomah, Wis., plant offered a specific example of stellar customer service: “Due to a change in a project, I needed made-to-order fixtures on short notice to assure that the project would receive a certificate of occupancy. The outside salesman met me on the jobsite within hours of my request to discuss the application with him, and a quote was received the same day of his visit.

“An order was placed the following morning, and the inside salesperson immediately communicated with the manufacturer to discuss the urgency of the order. They proactively communicated to me projected delivery dates and information from several follow-up calls to make sure the delivery would be on time. As a result, the order shipped within one week of the date that the order was placed. I even received a follow up call from the outside salesperson to confirm that the shipment was received in good condition.”

Well said, George and Patrick!