Logistics Land and Supply Chain City
One of the more interesting ideas to come along the business philosophy turnpike in recent years is the concept of the "experience economy." Spurred on by consumers who want not only goods and services, but also immersion in memorable encounters, providers began looking for ways to maximize the experience potential of their businesses.
The most obvious and immediate application of this way of thinking was for retailers: sporting goods stores that offer climbing walls and food stores that offer five-minute massages. But behind the hoopla and hype of theme restaurants and shopping malls lies a gem of truth: the way a good or service is delivered or provided can make or break a business.
What can this possibly mean for us as logistics providers and for the large or small, new and established companies who are our customers? Simply this: Once a product is out of the manufacturer's hands, the rest of the experience is up to us! Even more so in the world of e-commerce, where consumers' expectations continue to grow, the supply chain has to gear-up for more transactions, more quickly executed, and delivered in multiple directions. Because if you disappoint the customers, it's a click of a mouse to go somewhere else. Fortunately, information technology is on our side. Systems that enable us to interface with our customer's own systems, real-time transmission of orders and inventory, and more efficient and accessible storage and retrieval of data all help us to stay on top of customers' needs. And because change is a constant, we must be not only very proficient, but very flexible as well. Tomorrow may bring a whole new set of expectations.
The Customer-Provider Experience
While we are helping our customers safeguard and strengthen their experience-based relationship with their customers, there's another experience to be enhanced. It's the one that determines whether our customers choose us for their next start-up or expand their business in our direction. What experiences do they want from their logistics provider, their supply chain manager?
If only it was as easy as climbing walls and costumes, music and memorabilia. Here's what we hear from our customers—and they represent a cross-section of businesses, from dot-coms to mid-size to Fortune 100 and other "blue chip" companies.
- We know they want us to stand for something. Whether it's our mission or vision or values or all of these, they want to know who we are and where we are going. They want to know if they sign on in Portland that our way of doing business, the way we think and the way we work, are going to be the same way we think and work in Pittsburgh.
- They want us to perfect process management. Just as they want consistency in our values, they want us to perform to the same level of excellence in every location, on every day of the week. They want to know that we know how to get the job done.
- They want us to learn who they are. Really learn! Not just about the particular product we may be handling in a particular location—or a specific problem we are helping them solve—but about their entire business. About their mission, vision, values, or whatever drives them. And they want us to build upon that knowledge. I'm absolutely certain, if we are paying close attention, we can learn something new about each customer every single day. We use that to create, retain, and organize a body of intelligence about that customer. Then we have a context for decision-making and a map for our next strategy.
One of our customers recently told us, "We now experience weekly a level of mission-critical decisions that we experienced monthly or even quarterly prior to our e-commerce business." Never has it been more important to build a knowledge base that is constantly renewed and updated.
What's most important is to let the customer participate in building the knowledge base. It's about shared learning. It's about collaborating with customers to understand each one's business goals and desired outcome, then designing the system, reconfiguring the process, and deploying the capability to get the job done.
Finally, customers want us to link up with the world-at-large. They want us to know what's happening in the greater business environment. They want us to bring our expertise to the table every time. They want smart partners who understand that we are in a crazy, turbulent time, filled with exciting possibilities and constant change. That's the experience we can provide.
So, what do your customers want? Have you found critical supply chain customer "touch-points?" How do you enhance the customer experience? I'd really like to know!