Originally appeared in Fleet Owner

A strained supply chain has highlighted the importance of relationships between fleets and suppliers. In this environment, maintaining relationships is as important as maintaining equipment.

In the hyper-competitive trucking industry, every business wants to be the supplier of choice for fleets—the company that gets called first when a fleet has a problem or has a need for parts and service. Relationships have always been important in trucking, but factors like the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and technological change have underscored the importance of strong relationships between fleets and their suppliers.

These relationships don’t happen without a lot of effort and trust. Even the closest connections can fail if they are not nurtured and tended to over time.

Becoming the supplier of choice requires some fundamental actions. Understand the fleet’s business. No two fleets are alike, even if they are operating in the same geographic area and have roughly the same number of trucks. To find out as much about your customer as you can, you need to continue asking questions as the relationship progresses.

See also: Suppliers see inflation as greatest risk to fleets

Discover what makes them unique and help them exploit that uniqueness. It is very likely that your customers’ businesses will change over time, so make sure you continue to stay up to date on any changes they are making. Figure out their pain points and devise solutions that address those obstacles.

Stay on top of issues that might affect your customer and share your concerns about things that you think have the potential to impact them. Offering assistance before they even know there may be a problem will show them just how committed to their business you are.

Make sure you communicate with your customers in the manner they wish, whether that is in-person visits, phone calls, emails, or texts. Be honest, direct, and transparent in your dealings. Deliver on your promises to them and never promise more than you can deliver. If a problem arises—and at some point in your relationship, there will be a problem—acknowledge it and work to resolve it quickly to your customer’s satisfaction.

Demonstrate to your customers that you are working to continuously improve the products and services you offer them and that you are investing in new technology that you can leverage to help them be more efficient.

Becoming a supplier of choice comes down to executing well on some fundamental relationship principles and proving that you are the go-to source for your customer’s concerns.