By Lewis Marston, CEO, Rocket Consulting
Optimising the logistics element of an organisation's supply chain is not an obvious focal point for improving customer service and experience. But in leaving this critical business function in the hands of a third party, are retailers missing a trick?
Receiving their goods is a key part of the shopping experience for the customer. However, at the point when the delivery vans leave the loading bay, the brand often loses direct contact with the purchaser, thereby increasing the risk that they will buy elsewhere in future.
Protecting the customer relationship
The logistics function is often the first time that the supplier does not have full control over their product. They cannot therefore resolve any issues en route – indeed they may not even be aware of them. The customer service team receiving calls about a late delivery for example will have neither immediate visibility of the problem, nor the wherewithal to take charge and ensure that it is ironed out with as little pain as possible for the customer.
In contrast, if the customer service team has real-time delivery and returns management information at their fingertips, they can make proactive decisions, and potentially pre-empt an issue before it becomes a full-blown problem. (Flagging up in advance that there is a delay to an anticipated delivery, how long this will be and why, can go a long way to protecting the customer relationship).
Extending the retail brand
The logistics arm also provides an opportunity for retail suppliers to extend the brand to the point of delivery, rather than items arriving with the customer under the logistics company's brand. For example, state-of-the-art, mobile applications (such as LogiScope – developed by Rocket Consulting) enable the electronic proof of delivery (i.e. customer signature screen on the handheld device carried by the courier) to be branded by the relevant supplier.
This ensures visibility for the supplier and means that the customer who has bought items from several retailers is more in touch with the brand at the point of delivery, something that can be lost with online shopping.
Retailers in control of their logistics function, either directly or through tighter integration with their chosen logistics service provider, have the ideal opportunity to invite customers to provide feedback, both positive and negative, at the point of delivery. From this, retailers gain valuable insight about the customer experience that is potentially outside the retailer's immediate control but has a significant impact on the brand perception. Capturing this information provides a further feedback and follow-up loop to increase customer service and retention.
Today's sophisticated mobile logistics management applications are able to link GPS, vehicle and driver performance data (called telematics) to the deliveries. The additional business intelligence this creates can help retailers to drive up service levels at the same time as reduce logistics costs, for example by more accurate delivery time management and the reduction of accidents.
To maximise satisfaction and keep the positive sentiment tied to the brand throughout, these activities require an extension of the typical order-to-cash process to encompass the full cycle; from the first customer touch-point, such as ordering online, to the final connection of the items being safely in the customer's hands. Extending these enterprise processes to reach the customer requires bringing together in one mobile application the many elements that comprise the complete logistics function, but have traditionally been fragmented across separate systems and previously not had a customer service focus. There is no denying this is challenging, but it puts the retailer firmly in control of how their brand is perceived by the customer, thereby protecting the promise of delivery.
And as well as improving customer service, satisfaction and retention, a streamlined logistics function reduces costs and creates the opportunity for competitive advantage. What's not to like?