Supply Chain-Enhanced Customer Experience

Stephen DeAngelis

November 06, 2019

Although the connection between great customer experience and a world-class supply chain is obvious, customer experience is not the first thing that pops into most peoples’ minds when they hear the term “supply chain.” According to Phil Britt (@Phil_Britt), supply chain professionals are among the few people who regularly make the connection between customer service and the supply chain. He explains, “A Supply chain manager’s main focus is on keeping costs low — or at least, that’s what many assume. Yet according to research commissioned by BluJay Solutions in partnership with the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), that’s not the case. According to more than 400 supply-chain professionals from across manufacturing, retail and logistics service providers (LSPs), impact on customer experience (CX) is their primary concern.”[1] Bill Hobbs (@hobbs_bill), Chief Revenue Officer of Anvyl, agrees with Britt. He writes, “Companies want to wow customers with beautiful packaging, sophisticated product design and simple setup instructions. Yet while all of these elements are important, the customer journey actually starts long before the customer receives a product — and a company’s supply chain is crucial in determining whether that experience is positive or negative.”[2]

The importance of meeting customer expectations

Hobbs observes, “In a competitive marketplace increasingly driven by e-commerce, customer expectations are high. People want to know what they are ordering and when and how it will arrive, and they have little patience for missing or late shipments. They have plenty of options, so one delayed delivery can cause them to cancel their order and move on to another company.” Staff members at CIO Review agree. They add, “Digital consumers demand and expect a brand to exceed their expectations every time they deal with a brand. The customers have a wide array of choices when it comes to choosing the right product to buy and would always go with the best in the market that fits their budget. Delivering a remarkable customer experience is crucial for a business to survive in this age of digital transformation.”[3]

Customer expectations lead directly to customer experience. The CIO Review staff explains, “Customer experience is defined by interactions between a customer and an organization throughout their business relationship which can include awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy, purchases, and service.” Britt adds, “Depending on the exact business, the supply chain could have several steps between the acquisition of the raw materials and the delivery of the end product. So delivering CX throughout the process is more complex than simple communications with an end customer.” In fact, ensuring a great customer experience takes a lot of hard work. Denise Lee Yohn (@deniseleeyohn), a brand leadership expert, writes, “Thomas Edison once famously said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration — CX innovation operates under the same principle. You must put in the work to initiate, cultivate and pursue it.”[4]

The supply chain’s role in creating a great customer experience

Regardless of whether your customers are businesses or consumers, keeping them happy should be a priority. Spencer Lin (@SpencerGLin), Industrial Products and CFO Lead at the IBM Institute of Business Value, asserts, “Empowered customers expect more and want to buy at the time and through the channel of their choosing.”[5] Hobbs believes poor customer experiences often begin with a lack of supply chain visibility. He explains, “Lack of visibility is a common obstacle for companies in every industry. In the Business Continuity Institute’s 2017 report on global supply chain resilience, 69% of respondents said they do not have full visibility of their supply chains. … Poor visibility can damage your bottom line and your customer experience.” Britt adds bad data into the mix of things that can spoil a good customer experience. He writes, “Data quality is fundamental to success.” Below are recommendations these experts suggest will improve both supply chain performance and customer experience.

1. Map the journey. Hobbs writes, “Make sure you understand every step in your supply chain, from submitting the first purchase order to delivering the product to your customer’s doorstep.”

2. Maintain good datasets. Britt explains, “By adhering to supply chain data standards, trading partners can trust the data they exchange and use it to manage supply chain logistics and fuel sales growth.”

3. Design supply chains with customer experience in mind. Lin believes a company must “define a unifying vision and treat experience design as a core philosophy.” He continues, “Experience design takes an empathetic approach that puts the needs of users at the center of projects by looking at the ‘why’ of a problem and asking questions about the specific challenges that need to be solved.” Hobbs agrees. He writes, “Define the customer experience you want to create, and apply those parameters to your product journey. If your goal is for customers to place an order seamlessly, receive an immediate confirmation and tracking number, then have their product in hand two days later, how does that ideal match up with your actual supply chain? Where are the gaps in your current process? Where are you running into challenges? How will these problems affect the experience you’re trying to create?”

4. Keep customers informed. Britt writes, “The more efficiently you can automate your warehousing and logistics tracking to enable customers to monitor their goods at every stage of the supply chain, the better the CX you can provide.” He quotes John Moss, CEO of English Blinds, who told him, “Keeping customers informed about where their goods are in the pipeline and when they can be expected in real time is one of the core tenets of providing a great customer experience, and the best way to achieve this is to integrate the appropriate tech.”

5. Engage customers across all channels. Lin explains, “Leaders connect across multiple forms and channels with brand content. They share product and service content with customers. They are willing to experiment with different tactics. In the next two to three years, leaders say, blogs (79%), search engine (78%), buyer reviews (74%), social media (67%), personalized recommendations (66%) and professional industry sites (66%) will be the top six means to engage with customers. To address this evolution, companies need to train existing employees or invest in content skills including content management, content development, interactive/digital design and community management. Concurrently, they need to hire data-minded talent with skills in advanced data analysis, data visualization, mathematical modeling, data acquisition and social media mining and analysis who can work side by side with customer-facing staff.”

6. Maintain the highest standards of service. In today’s always-on world, one stumble can cause serious repercussions on social media. Oren Zaslansky, CEO of Flock Freight, told Britt, “Consumer demand is insatiable and driving increased pressure on global supply chains to react accordingly if businesses wish to succeed. In today’s world, supply chain professionals can no longer afford to simply look at cost reduction as the primary lever by which to drive value. Rather, they need to focus on speed, quality and consistency.” Hobbs recommends implementing a proactive supply chain risk management program to minimize risks. He suggests every company needs to ask, “Which areas do you have control over? Which areas are out of your control but still need contingency plans to mitigate risks?”

Concluding thoughts

Britt concludes, “Delivering frictionless experiences will empower businesses to outpace competition.” In order to provide frictionless customer experiences, Lin insists companies need to leverage the cutting-edge technologies, like cognitive computing. He concludes, “Leading companies view technology as a critical enabler to digital customer experience.” He goes on to explain how companies are using the latest technologies. He writes, “Three-to-eight times more leaders have implemented mobile, collaboration, automation and AI in marketing and in sales. Cloud computing is used to run marketing applications and maintain data around customer touchpoints. Mobile technologies are applied for ubiquitous access to information and help managing disruptions. Automation helps improve productivity of customer-facing functions and help sales manage lead distribution and prioritization. Artificial intelligence provides insights, powers experiences, automates personalized promotions and integrates external data so that marketers can identify prospects and understand customers at an individual level with scale.” Two terms you often hear or read about today are “data driven” and “customer-centric.” If your supply chain isn’t designed to provide great customer experiences, it is neither data driven nor customer-centric. Lin concludes, “Customer experience is a journey for all companies. The road to improved customer-centricity requires suppliers to rethink their approaches for strategy and culture, channels, data and insights, technology and organization and skills.”

Footnotes
[1] Phil Britt, “Delivering Customer Experience in the Supply Chain,” CMS Wire, 26 September 2019.
[2] Bill Hobbs, “Supply Chain Inefficiencies Can Crush Customer Experience And Cost You Millions,” Forbes, 30 September 2019.
[3] Staff, “Why Customer Experience Strategy is Important,” CIO Review, 1 February 2019.
[4] Denise Lee Yohn, “Spark Customer Experience Innovation With These Three Strategies,” Forbes, 5 March 2019.
[5] Spencer Lin, “5 Ways Suppliers Are Closing the Customer-Experience Gap,” IndustryWeek, 23 July 2019.