December 2015 | Commentary | Checking In

Whatever It Takes

Tags: Retail, Customer Service, Logistics, Retail Logistics, Supply Chain

Felecia Stratton is the editor of Inbound Logistics magazine.

So you're a retailer, and out of stock on a particular item. Then, of course, a customer orders it. What do you do? When outdoor gear retailer Backcountry was faced with an out of stock that would disappoint a customer, an employee went shopping on a competitor's website, purchased the item with a personal credit card, and shipped it to the customer.

Supply chain managers understand the crucial role that logistics plays in providing good customer service, and enabling your customers to pay it forward to their customers. When it's business as usual, and you have good controls in place, customer service levels are adequate to keep everyone happy. But the true measure of customer service is what your team members, carriers, and supply chain partners do when something goes wrong.

You can work with leading carriers that provide great service, you can implement technology that provides the visibility and capability to redeploy assets and reconfigure your supply chain, and you can rely on a talented pool of internal logistics and supply chain team members to enable good customer service. But great customer service comes down to the people behind the systems, and their personal commitment to satisfying customers.

I heard many stories of heroic customer service during a recent visit to Penske Logistics' headquarters in Reading, Pa. One in particular, involving critical shipments moving by truck, stands out. Even though an advance ship notice was issued, when connections arrived to meet the truck, the goods were not on it. With the customer's deadline at risk, Penske deployed a team driver to drive all night, tracked this reshipment truck in transit, met it on the road, and arranged for a crossdock at 3 a.m. to transfer the shipment onto the new vehicle. But by the time Penske accomplished all this, the hours-of-service rules kicked in, and the driver timed out. While the driver sat at a truck stop for the required rest period, the Penske team refused to give up. They called every carrier they could, but no one could deliver the critical shipment the rest of the way. After some creative brainstorming, the team hired a tow truck to move the truck from the rest stop to the waiting crossdock, which stayed open to meet the delivery—and the customer's deadline.

The technology was there; the trucks were tracked and the staff had full visibility to the shipments. But, technology did not have the idea to deploy a tow truck to move a critical shipment to its final delivery.

This is just one example of what people can do when everything else fails. They take 24/7 ownership of customer service issues. They exhaust every possible concept and idea. They do whatever it takes to keep their customer commitments.

Technology and equipment are great for enabling standard customer service. But when things go wrong, it's people who drive extraordinary customer service.






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