Supply Chain Commentary: Satisfying Customer Demand in a 365 E-Commerce Market

Today’s connected world has created catalysts of change from consumer shopping habits all the way to the last mile. Omnichannel retailing, combined with Amazon’s domination of the e-commerce world impacts shippers’ decision-making, driving change throughout the supply chain.

This change has been so monumental that the term, Amazon Effect – relating to customer expectations of wanting their goods ASAP while paying little for that service – has become industry lingo. Not only do consumers want their purchases now, they also want to track the process from A to Z. Rapid delivery expectations put pressure on both fulfillment centers and drivers.

Challenges arise if retailers oversell products and fulfillment centers do not have sufficient stock. Previously, retailers and shippers focused on developing technology to avert these situations in response to the fourth-quarter holiday rush. Today, shippers need to employ innovative solutions year-round, both digitally and with a physical presence in the supply chain.

Year-Round Rush

Demand for large product delivery remains consistent through each season, creating a new reality for shippers where the holiday rush no longer exists. The year kicks off with deliveries of treadmills and large screen TVs for the Super Bowl. Spring weather spurs patio furniture purchases, while summer rides the wave of outdoor sports with kayaks and paddleboards. Fall is busy with deliveries of couches and new furniture. Year-round buying creates opportunities for third-party logistics providers to increase client base, analyze data, and provide supply chain transparency including real-time information, to enable data-driven business decisions.

As a result, the e-commerce segment pushes soft costs of increased customer service to new heights and impacts bottom lines with critical 24/7 staffing needs for both local and 800-number call centers. As consumers make purchases and track packages with one click, carriers must respond quickly.

Keys to Customer Service

Technology creates greater transparency, empowering consumers to actively track and locate their top-of-mind or high-dollar merchandise. A consumer now “sees” their order at a warehouse origin and may request a change in delivery date or time. Call center professionals need to problem solve in a timely manner, receiving and sending information to optimize routes, keeping goods in motion and informing consumers and drivers of new expectations. With each interaction, customer service is acting as the voice of the company and needs to not only project professionalism, but also convey information in a friendly and respectful manner.

Drivers often transport merchandise from several different retailers along with B2B scheduled stops within one vehicle. B2B deliveries have a predetermined delivery time, loading docks designed to receive freight, and employees prepared to accept the delivery and the confirmation of accepted goods is able to be sent electronically. All of these factors contribute to the predictability and accuracy of B2B deliveries, and the lack of these elements in e-commerce can make the process more challenging.

The real-time link between the driver and local call centers is crucial, whether it is navigating through bad weather or even customer absence during an agreed-upon delivery window. The greatest tool to deliver exceptional customer service lies in arming drivers with the necessary information to meet customer needs of both the retailer and consumer.

Handheld devices and smartphone technology take the pressure off the driver to remember specific requests, and enables them to focus on customer touch points with courteous and knowledgeable interactions and on-time deliveries. The employee’s ability to uncrate and place a product in the customer’s desired location, then swiftly remove the packaging leaves a lasting impression on the customer. This impression will likely impact future purchasing habits from a specific retailer, and reverberates back to a shipper’s bottom line.

True customer satisfaction lies with the driver and they are only as successful as the strength of the call center team using integrated technology to inform them of the expectations for each delivery. This transparent and reliable shipping landscape offers much more than the traditional drop ship model – it creates dependability and the opportunity to form lasting, loyal relationships within the supply chain.

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