August 2016 | Commentary | Checking In

Working at People Speed

Tags: Retail, Logistics, Supply Chain

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

Elon Musk describes the manufacturing operation for the new Tesla as so complex that no humans will participate in building the car. "You really can't have people in the production line," says Musk. "Otherwise, you'll automatically drop to people speed."

Drop to people speed? Will supply chain impatience—a term I coined to define an inexorable demand for you to provide near teleportation-like delivery to your customers—get to the point where it necessitates driving all people out of manufacturing and supply chain operations?

Consumers are acculturated to shipment expectations that often bend the laws of physics, and with free shipping, bend the laws of finance, too (thanks, Amazon). That extends beyond e-commerce to retail, and even B2B sales. Shrinking margins motivate business leaders to automate the manufacturing and supply processes to make up the difference.

But I am not ready to push people out of the equation just yet. Here are two examples of critical people speed. One has to do with what readers tell their partners, the other has to do with what readers ask of them.

First, as part of our 3PL Perspectives market research, we ask readers why they think their providers merit recognition. You might expect them to laud end-to-end strategies, or a robust TMS—and they do. But many answers focus on the people: "The professionalism of Paige in getting our product to the customer in a timely manner with little or no lead time is exceptional," says one reader.

They provide many other like comments, citing friendliness, innovation, creativity, problem solving, and empathy. Empathy?

People also play a role in the project requests we receive from readers requiring the expertise of global carriers and 3PLs to crack new markets. Project requests include a German company seeking to serve U.S. customers, a UK-based supply chain manager needing transport partners in the United States to leverage growth in the EU, an EU manufacturer seeking help setting up an e-commerce logistics network in the United States, and a CPG brand seeking to serve Amazon and a wholesale distribution network in the United States.

You can't give these project leads to a machine. Success requires people working at people speed. No disrespect to M2M, IoT, or logistics technology; we need it to accomplish the complex work we do. But machine speed alone can't provide the personal service—and empathy—you need.