Counselor

Supplier of the Year - iClick

With a simple, yet fanatical mandate, iClick captures the crown as the industry’s best.

Something happens every Friday at iClick (asi/62124) that might seem a bit redundant, maybe even completely over-the-top, but Jeff Hall likes to keep the nearly four-year-old tradition going. Hall, iClick’s president, gets in front of his entire staff and reads customer feedback e-mails that were sent in that week. No, not one or two – all of them, sometimes dozens. Every word, good or bad, Hall belts out.

“I read all of them because customers are our lifeblood,” Hall says. “The e-mails are 10:1 positive to negative, but honestly the best ones are when someone tells us ‘you made a mistake, but the way you responded fixed everything.’ Good customer service is not about not having problems, it’s about how you resolve them.”

The truth is iClick doesn’t often have a lot of problems to resolve. In the last two years alone, the company has received 30,000 orders totaling nine million units. Over that span, iClick’s customer satisfaction rate has held strong at 99%. But whenever something isn’t right and a frazzled customer calls in, iClick’s reps have tremendous freedom to repair the wrong. You don’t hear the all-too-common “let me talk to my manager” line at iClick. Ever.

“We empower our people to make decisions without having to go through a supervisor,” Hall says. “They’ll never get in trouble for doing something extra for a customer.”

And all this is not just bulletin board, looks-good-in-marketing-materials type talk. iClick’s staff of 55 is driven to do more than most. Artists render designs in minutes, not days. Reps respond to customer texts at home on weekends. The company’s founder, Lon McGowan, even co-developed a program – fittingly called Clicker – that e-mails PDF quotes to customers in less than two minutes.
“We want distributors to build their brands,” says McGowan. “Customers are busy, so speed is important. We want to get customers the info they need fast. Our goal is to help them sell.”

McGowan has been helping distributors sell iClick’s core product – USB drives – ever since his company transitioned from the retail space to the ad specialty industry a decade ago. Then a 20-something techie, McGowan had dreamed of striking gold with MP3 players and digital cameras – which explains iClick’s name. But the real money, McGowan realized, wasn’t in retail. “By 2005, we were 100% in promotional products,” he says. “There was just bigger potential.”

Making Customers Look Good

Turns out, McGowan was right. In each of the first four years after iClick made the market switch, his company doubled its sales. The firm’s most recent revenue numbers also show an 8% increase in 2013.

How has iClick become such a success? Maybe it’s because of the company’s lifetime warranty on products. Maybe it’s the super-friendly terms, including a $2,000 credit that the company extends to customers. Or maybe it’s iClick’s devotion to McGowan’s mantra: Do whatever makes the distributor look good. “That’s our number-one value,” Hall says.

And frankly, everybody on staff knows it and gets it. If not, it’ll soon be time to move on. “We hire people that have the confidence and the guts to take care of the customer,” McGowan says. “We tell our staff to take care of the customer first and then tell us what you did.”

Indeed, the Seattle-based supplier doesn’t just try to earn or retain customers, it aims to win fans. And, as this year’s Counselor Distributor Choice Award voting shows, there are many of them. “They’re a first-class company and if they say they’ll do it, they do it,” says Steve Lapensohn, CEO of Lapgevity (asi/249351). “They have a good product mix and they stay up-to-speed on technology. When you get into custom USBs or custom packaging, they really know how to dress things up.”

Patrick Burton, a sales and marketing consultant at distributor Proforma West (asi/300094), considers iClick’s employees both business partners and friends. “I’ve gone up there to hang out and they’re all very welcoming and down-to-earth,” Burton says. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when business friends come through for you time and again, like when Burton needed a big fix when he messed up a top client’s order.

“I wrote down the wrong number,” Burton says. “Instead of 8GB I wrote down 4GB. All 300 USBs ordered had to go back. Within 48 hours, iClick unwrapped them, corrected the memory and sent them out. I don’t know how they did it. They waved their magic wand.”

Whether it’s magic or just really hard work, iClick and its staff are undoubtedly industry standouts. When you add up the anecdotes, the reviews and the ratings – in categories like communication, on-time delivery, and problem resolution – the result is clear: iClick is the 2014 Counselor Supplier of the Year.

“We are totally blown away, incredibly honored and absolutely thrilled,” Hall says. “We’re so grateful to be in this business and we’re so impressed and encouraged by the commitment level of distributors that we couldn’t do anything less for them.”

Unsurprisingly, iClick is already focused on doing more. Along with USBs, and its 2012 addition of pens, the supplier has introduced a line of mobile accessories for 2014. “We’re offering power pads, cell phone cases, Bluetooth speakers and headphones,” McGowan says.

The supplier has also recently launched an ambitious nationwide contract decoration service that guarantees CPSIA-compliance, two-day ground shipping and 100% satisfaction. iClick is pledging to take the stress out of decorating items like bags, caps and especially apparel. “It’s pretty appealing to a number of distributors,” McGowan says. “We started last July and it’s been great so far.”

But on the off chance some order or decoration isn’t so great, the staff at iClick promises to make it right. And everybody will probably hear about it on Friday.