Using supply chain information to create a closed-loop customer experience

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By Chris Jones, Executive Vice President, Marketing and Services, Descartes.

Consumers want to engage with retailers more than ever and this presents an excellent opportunity for supply chains to add value to the overall customer experience and minimise costs. While delivery performance is paramount, interacting with the consumer via supply chain information is critical to maximising the customer experience.

This strategy goes beyond the traditional delivery process, starting when the consumer is ordering and ending after the delivery was made. The pervasiveness of smart phones, real-time systems and GPS-enabled technology make engaging the customer during the order lifecycle easier and more compelling than ever. There are five basic steps in the customer order lifecycle where supply chain information plays an important part of the overall customer experience. This approach applies even if your delivery processes are outsourced.

Step 1: Delivery Appointment Confirmation. Customers want to know when their goods will arrive and increasingly they are expecting tighter time windows. With today's higher expectations, it is not unusual that potential customers will pass up retailers that fail to provide definitive time windows during the buying process. Equally, this is also an opportunity to set expectations for the customer to minimise failed deliveries.

Step 2: Scheduled Delivery Notification. As a concept, scheduled delivery notification has been around for quite a while – even though far too many companies still do not do it. The new thinking is that scheduled delivery notifications need to be more granular and provide a tighter delivery window. Best in class is now less than 30 minutes for a scheduled delivery. Again, this increases customer satisfaction and reduces failed deliveries as the customer, for example, knows which 30 minutes of the 3 hour originally promised widow their goods will show up.

Step 3: Delivery Tracking. Delivery progress tracking again is not new, but new variations have been popularised by some organisations that show the car on the map and the real-time estimated-time-of-arrival (ETA). Anyone living in a large city knows that delays are inevitable and customers are somewhat forgiving if you let them know that the delivery will be late and by how much. Simple approaches to delivery progress tracking like 'left the DC' notification are no longer considered valuable by customers.

Step 4: Document the Delivery. Getting the goods there at the right time is only half the battle. Instead, what occurs at the stop may be the difference between keeping and losing the customer, so tracking what happens via signatures, pictures, scans, etc. is critical to the customer and the retailer. As we all know, some deliveries don't go well whether it is, for example, an incomplete order, damaged goods or it won't fit into the customer's home. It's also critical to capture that your driver was at their door (through a picture) in the case where the customer was not home. Providing that information immediately after the delivery helps verify what exactly did happen for the customer to minimise claims and even fraud, or that you will charge them for the second attempt after a failed delivery.

Step 5: Survey to Measure the Delivery Experience. The best time to gauge the success or failure of the delivery is right after it happens and is fresh in the customer's mind. Most customers appreciate participating and the fact that you make an attempt to engage them can help improve their perception of your overall customer service. Some companies do it as part of the delivery process while others wait until the driver is gone. If the actual buyer is not home during the delivery then the best approach is the post-delivery survey.

Supply chain and related technology advances are making the closed loop customer engagement strategy more possible than ever. Delivery booking and optimisation technologies used during the ordering process provide the customer with the tight time windows they expect. GPS-enabled tracking tied to real-time location and dispatching systems provide up-to-the-minute status and ETA calculation. Smartphones with scanning, signature and picture capture and flexible forms capture what happens at the customer's location. Bringing this all together for the customer is notification technology that itself has gone omni-channel. It is now possible to interact with the customer through a variety of mediums, including text messaging, mobile or web applications and automated voice.

Any organisations still thinking that providing supply chain information to customers in real-time is a 'nice to have' are kidding themselves. The value is clearly being demonstrated every day and the technology is available now to cost-effectively make the supply chain a critical part of the customer experience. Indeed, new ways for engaging customers through supply chain information emerge almost daily. This is one area where we are clearly early in the journey to the customer facing supply chain.

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