Like many small entrepreneurs, Chris Cadigan of Unishippers of Nassau County, a franchised freight brokerage firm, was focused on survival when he opened his doors in 2009.
Growing sales was his main priority, which left the Rockville Centre-based "solopreneur" little time to focus on other administrative and customer service functions, which he ultimately outsourced to a virtual management firm.
It wasn't until about a year into the business, when he cracked $1 million in sales, that he started to do some careful reflection and actively seek customer feedback.
He discovered customers wanted faster response times on service quotes and queries, and also a single person to work with rather than different people each time they called.
It was an eye-opener.
"My focus was on sales and growing," says Cadigan, 39, a former regional sales director at DHL. "I figured the rest was taken care of."
His biggest oversight was failing to manage the subcontractor, a common mistake made by many entrepreneurs.
"You can't assume that anyone is going to take care of your customers the way you would take care of your customers," says Randi Busse, president of Workforce Development Group, a Melville-based customer service expert and author of "Turning Rants Into Raves."
DON'T WAIT FOR COMPLAINTS
Until you walk in your customers' shoes, "you really are clueless," Busse says. She suggests assessing your customer touch points at least quarterly, including making mystery calls into your company, a service she provides.
"Don't wait until customers start complaining to you," she says.
Cadigan took his customers' feedback seriously. Working with the outside virtual management firm, he revamped his customer work flow and response system.
He scrapped a telephone response system in which customers had to choose from six prompts to reach a live person, a process that could take them a minute or more, replacing it with a two-prompt system and cutting wait time by a minute and a half.
He also started to assign customers to designated representatives, so they would deal with the same rep each time they called.
By increasing the level of accountability, Cadigan was able to cut customers' email response time down from 45-50 minutes to 25-35 minutes.
This led to improved customer satisfaction, and with that success he and a partner last year decided to start their own Florida-based virtual management firm, which now services 10 other Unishippers franchisees throughout the country, providing administrative and customer service functions, Cadigan says.
"When we moved to a friendlier customer environment, I believe we actually kept a lot more customers," he notes.
Among its core services to clients, Unishippers helps coordinate shipping services for both air and trucking freight and is also an authorized reseller of UPS small package services.
"Unishippers streamlines the process from pickup to delivery," says Michael Kollander, president of Garden City-based Verified System Solutions, a refurbished-computer dealer and Unishippers customer.
Verified ships hundreds of refurbished computers daily across the country, and Cadigan has helped the company achieve savings of 15 percent to 20 percent on freight costs, Kollander says. Unishippers also helps recover lost or damaged shipments, he says.
Verified is one of about 220 customers Cadigan services nationally. About two years ago the company expanded its reach to go after larger clients, which helped increase sales 20 percent.
Last year sales topped $5 million.
Cadigan is a "consistent top performer" for Unishippers, says Steve Leavitt, COO of the Salt Lake City-based company, which has 151 franchisees, including two others on Long Island.
Not bad for an entrepreneur who was downsized from DHL as part of mass layoffs there. Cadigan saw the writing on the wall when he had to let members of his own sales team go, and he started looking for a new opportunity. After nine months of prep and planning, he was able to launch his business three days after he was let go. Going forward, he's optimistic. "I'm excited about the future," Cadigan says. "There's tremendous opportunity in this industry."