Independent retailers must often compete with several key account chains in their immediate area – and they can only do this by providing the merchandise their customers want, when they need it and at a decent price. To achieve this, they are at the mercy of the suppliers’ customer service personnel who send out the orders and ensure that the billing is correct.

The people who dispatch the orders and keep accounts up to date may play a back room role, but they are crucial for retailers to trade competitively. As mentioned in the article These are SAs top retail sales agents, we also invited retailers to nominate the supplier companies who give them the best admin service (or worst), and they responded by nominating 45 companies.

The result showed that you don’t have to be the biggest to be the best. Family-owned company, De Wet Sport, was rated the highest by the retail respondents – three of them indicated that De Wet’s admin team gives them the best service of all the South African suppliers.

PUMA’s credit controllers are: Jennifer Bartes, Wilma Lynch, Michelle Morris, Christine Bierenbroodspot, Lynn Louw and Mandy Fortune. Photo supplied.

PUMA SA is a close runner-up – which indicates that they must be doing something right as they were also rated as providing the best sales service (see These are SAs top retail sales agents).

The adidas customer service team: Simone Acker, Anthea May, Samantha Moses, Tanya Jacobs, Carmen Scheepers, Adiela Beyers, Yonene Manual, Rebecca Pillay, Roger Barthus, Natasha Joorst, Ibtehshaam Kolbe, Gail Bowers, Kirsten Smith, Farhad Fredericks, Taryn Abrahams, Porschia Harris, Heidi Raymond, Andrea de Voux, Andrew Green, Darren Cooke, Wendy Gibbons, Ielhaam Hendriks, Joan Okkers, Janine Hendriks, Fatima Jedaar, Tamlyn Rooza, Yolanda Louw, Candice Jacobs and Jean Austin. Photo: Carin Hardisty.

The adidas SA customer service department was one point behind them in third place.

All three these top scoring companies were one point behind each other and all received multiple nominations from retailers who say they deliver the best customer service. Considering that there are more than 500 South African suppliers to retailers in the industry, being nominated the best (or one of the best) is an accolade that deserves a celebration.

Other companies among the Top 10 rated service providers are (in alphabetical order): American Man, ASICS SA, Hi-Tec, Leisure Holdings, Nike and Omni Sport. This means that at least one retailer reckons that they provide the best service, plus others consider them among the top three.

At least one retailer also reports that he/she receives the top service from the following suppliers (in alphabetical order):

  • Apparel and footwear: Intershu and Skye Distributors;
  • Sport: Pat Wiltshire Sport;
  • Outdoor: Adventure Inc, DK Gas Tokai and The Kingfisher.

Service departments from the following suppliers were also nominated as one of the second or third best in the country (alphabetical order):

  • Apparel and footwear: All Wear, Crouch Footwear, Falke, Kappa, Katz Footwear, Le Coqsportif, Medicus Shoes, Musgrave Agencies, New Balance, Performance Brands, TYR and Vans;
  • Sport: Acushnet, Charmers Sportswear, Kevro, LGB /Admiral, Oliver Sport, School Sports Gear and W.E.T. Sports and Imports;
  • Outdoor: Adrenaline Fishing, Awesome Tools, Lite-Optec, Ram Mountaineering and Sensational Angling.

Retailers were asked to describe in their own words what impresses them most about a good customer service department. Not surprisingly, the word most frequently used to describe good service is efficiency. Efficiency is further characterised as delivering the correct orders on time and sending correct invoices – in other words, just getting the basics right.

This was highlighted by 59% of the respondents. What is concerning, though, is the fact that retailers are impressed by suppliers who are efficient, as if this is a rare occurrence, instead of a given.

Next to efficiency, “good communication and a willingness to help,” are appreciated by most retail respondents.

Keeping the communication channels open when problems arise is especially important for retailers, says Frankie Sequeira of Novels Sport in De Aar. “Correcting mistakes and putting through credit notes speedily so that accounts are kept up to date,” are other actions that impresses him.

This view is shared by many other retail respondents. They appreciate it when they are advised when the stock they ordered is no longer available, says Michael Bester and John Cooney of Brian Bands Sports in Port Elizabeth. Even better, “if they let you know if something is out of stock and recommend something else,” says Laurika Wolfaardt of Robertson Boland Sports.

Apart from on time deliveries, easy returns when required are most appreciated by Rakesh Morar of Modway Shoes in Pietermaritzburg. Also, “receiving the correct goods within the delivery time frame specified with all invoicing in order”.

The things that irk retailers most are on the flip side of the coin of the things they appreciate most, again relating to efficiency and communication. “Errors on invoices, late delivery, short deliveries, no communication regarding back orders …” Bester and Cooney summarise the views expressed by many of their colleagues.

It is as simple as “picking up the phone to discuss my issues,” laments a retailer. “Not communicating when things don’t reconcile and not coming back to us with queries placed,” adds Sequeira. “Short supplies and back orders without getting notified,” upsets Audrey Crawford of SwimMaster.

Incorrect orders are also much cause for frustration, for example, “sometimes the items in the package is wrong, or not in the package at all,” complains Wolfaardt.

Delivery delays is another cause for concern for several retailers. For example, “orders that cannot be packed and sent the same day or the next day.” “Lack of follow up with transporters and lax responses to enquiries,” angers another retailer.

Complaints about accounts departments mostly focus on incorrect or late invoicing. “Some suppliers send statements late or never send out statements,” says an anonymous retailer. “I don’t get credit notes by email,” complains Riaan Boshoff of Topsport in Vryheid. Or otherwise “not putting through credit notes” and unwillingness to supply credit are other frustrations encountered by retailers.

* We awarded the following points to each nomination: 3 for the admin department who was rated best, 2 for second best and 1 for third. Most (39%) of the retailers who made nominations are independent sport or specialist sport traders, who would also sell athletic clothing and footwear. One could therefore expect that companies who supply athletic clothing and footwear and sporting goods would be nominated by more retailers. That is why we stress that to be nominated at all is a big compliment – to be nominated as the best (even just by one retailer) is an achievement and to receive multiple nominations is reason for a big celebration.

Retailers were given the opportunity to name service departments who they believe performed below an acceptable standard – but this is not for publication. We did, however, deduct points if a company was cited as performing badly by one company, but nominated for good service by another.