Customer Service: Who Needs it?

Last weekend, I finally compiled my holiday shopping list and headed out to brave the crowds. I live within 10 miles of Kmart, Walmart, and Target, but I will never again set foot in one of those. I usually have patience when shopping, but several bad customer service experiences— long checkout lines, unhelpful help, and out-of-stock disappointments— cost that retailer a customer.

Those experiences got me thinking: is customer service a subset of logistics? Can a company have great supply chain management but lousy customer service? Or is it a given that companies excelling at supply chain management also offer exceptional customer service?

During a recent visit to a crowded Apple store, my salesperson and cashier were one and the same. After he persuaded me to make a purchase, he rushed over with a handheld device. After a simple swipe of my credit card, I was quickly out the door. No more buyer’s remorse while waiting in a slow checkout line. Apple takes point-of-sale customer service literally.

Best Buy has similar customer service-friendly mechanisms in place at its stores. Sales reps are easily recognizable and equally convincing, and the Geek Squad is front and center waiting to answer any tech support questions. If they can’t fix your problem, they can sell you what you need to fix it, and there’s a smiling salesperson and cashier ready and willing to help complete your purchase.

Beyond the consumer-facing, personal communication world of electronics and “best bought” Apples, customer service and logistics excellence intersect at many points throughout supply chains. What consumers demand in terms of product quality and availability, service and support, retailers expect as much and more from their distributors, service providers, and vendors.

Amy Roach Partridge’s article, Managing a Customer-Service Supply Chain,  illustrates how logistics and customer service complement each other. Examples include how Agility is helping automotive retailer Pep Boys consolidate purchase orders and ocean freight; and why McCain Foods relies on C.R. England’s transportation services to deliver French fries to food service distributors and restaurant chains across the United States. In both cases, customer service is at the forefront— creating efficiencies and economies upstream in the supply chain, while capturing sales at the demand point.

For retailers and manufacturers, supply chain management and customer service overlap. You can have one without the other. But to survive and grow in today’s competitive, demanding economy, you have to be proficient at both.

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