Kane Logistics was recently named 3PL of the Year by Sam’s Club. KANE operates three high-volume distribution centers for Sam's Club. The award recognizes superior operational performance and customer service. We talked with Jason Brown, KANE’s director of operations for the Sam’s Club business, about what it takes to deliver great 3PL customer service.
Q: What’s the key to driving high levels of operational performance day in and day out?
A: Individual commitment. Our performance is determined by the many KANE associates who receive orders, prepare outbound shipments and load trucks. Superior performance requires buy-in from every single one of those associates. If everyone is on board and working toward the same shared goal, the sky is the limit.
Q: As a manager, how do you achieve that buy-in?
A: In KANE’s Sam’s Club operation, the role of the management team is more about supporting, rather than directing, team members. We get our hands dirty. We step in when help is needed. We ask associates what they need to succeed. Associates who don’t feel supported won’t go the extra mile when you need them. Why should they?
Q: What does great 3PL customer service mean to you?
A: A happy customer.
Q: And what makes for a happy customer?
A: A 3PL customer expects many things. In the case of Sam’s Club, operational performance is at the top of the list. They are very metrics driven, so we are very metrics driven. Our operational targets are clearly communicated to associates and we talk with them daily about these metrics. The numbers are posted throughout facilities so we know where we stand. The reports we post are not about “how did we do last month?” They are more focused on “how are we doing right now and what do we need to do to win?” It’s like a sporting event. We’re in the middle of the game and we’re constantly checking the score.
Q: So there’s a competitive element to it.
A: Absolutely. In fact, the metrics we share with associates are not only about the performance of one distribution center (DC) or all KANE-operated Sam’s DCs combined, but also the performance all of Sam’s facilities – including those run by other 3PLs
Q: So Sam’s Club promotes friendly competition.
A: They do, and it works. It’s human nature. You want your team to win. A real sense of pride develops when your team is working toward a shared goal. Our North Canton, Ohio DC was named Sam’s Club 2020 DC of the Year for having the best operational performance of all of Sam’s 17 DCs in the U.S. That’s not easy to do and it’s a source of great pride when it happens.
Q: How important is communication to maintaining a good customer relationship?
A: We meet (virtually) with our Sam’s Club counterparts at least weekly to review metrics and make sure we are where we need to be. Sam’s senior logistics executive has my cell number and we talk regularly. It’s a very collaborative, supportive relationship on both sides.
Q: Even if things go wrong?
A: Especially if things go wrong. A key element of the KANE culture is “no surprises.” If there’s an issue, we’re on to the customer immediately – explaining the situation and suggesting a fix, if necessary.
Q: It sounds like culture is a very important ingredient in great 3PL customer service.
A: It is. There is no SOP for great service. But if you hire the right people who appreciate and embrace the culture – in our case, the KANE Code – they will do the right thing for the customer.
Q: So hiring is critical.
A: Yes. KANE has always followed the credo “hire for attitude, train for skill.” We get the right people on the team and, as growth opportunities become available, we like to hire from within. In fact many of our current leaders on the Sam’s Club team started on the warehouse floor.
Q: You’re an example of that, right?
A: I am. I started over 20 years ago as a temporary forklift driver and today I am responsible for distribution centers that support billions of dollars’ worth of store sales each year. That goes back to my earlier point: when management supports you and provides opportunities, you want to pay that back.
Q: Any closing thoughts on customer service?
A: KANE’s former Chairman, Gene Kane, had a pretty good idea of what it takes to provide great 3PL customer service. He used to say that if you take care of associates, they’ll take care of the customer. When it comes to making customers happy, that’s a pretty smart philosophy.