3PLs: Going the extra mile for customers
The customer is king! Long live the customer!
It is words like these that have become a constant for business across all industries. With customers being more discerning, fickle, and less brand loyal, coupled with the ease of product information and reviews online, it’s no wonder businesses have to constantly stay ahead of the curve to retain them.
To ensure greater customer experience (CX), companies have to regularly keep up-to-date with their clients. Through online discussions, social media chats, feedback, and word-of-mouth, the process of keeping customers satisfied all the time is no mean feat.
So what is CX? “Similar to, but different from customer service, customer experience is unique to your brand. It carries both a tone and an image specific to your company. It’s a feeling as opposed to a result and it is becoming an important part of both the retail sales process and the way service providers attract new customers. In addition to becoming an important part of the consumer facing aspect of retail, it is also an important way for service providers to build a relationship with both existing and potential customers.”
For 3PLs this is clearly the case. Depending on where in the supply chain the providers lies (or within more than one), is where they need to create positive customers experiences. Across the four main areas – Transportation, Warehousing, Distribution, and Shipping and Receiving – there are multiple areas of interest.
First, is the question of speed of delivery to the end customer. Here, location is key and if so, can express services be implemented. Also, even if the warehouse is suitably located the inventory needs to be in regular supply to ensure adequate stock.
Further, the issue of price is always pertinent. From a customer’s point of view there needs to be transparency on any additional costs incurred. From the 3PL’s standpoint, where the price lies is within extra services or “kitting (putting several products in special packaging).”
Customers also want to know whether their goods are properly insured. Also, “Will they be insured during delivery, return, and while in storage?” Is there a limit to the insurance or is there a cut-off for the insurance? These specifics need to be made clear upfront as it is evident that customers dislike surprise costs.
For e-tail customers and online shoppers the experience is key. From the look and feel of placing an order, to the correspondence up to delivery, and finally, the delivery itself, the entire process can make to break loyalty. In fact, “the buying journey doesn’t end when they [customers] click ‘Complete Order’. They want the products delivered quickly and if there are any problems with their order they want to be kept informed. [Thus], the true shopping experience occurs after they’ve actually placed their order (consider the global unboxing phenomenon).”
Here, 3PLs can capitalize on the delivery process through clear communication, ideally, on-time (or early) deliveries (or direct channels of correspondence during delays including sincere apologies), and even extra customer incentives.
For the front-end to be worry-free the back-end needs to work smoothly. Thus, the technology, processes, and efficiencies must be seamless. Packing, loading, managing, and quick decision-making are key to the overall smooth operating of the entire supply chain and given that one hiccup can have a severe domino effect, it is imperative that the functioning of the chain continues regularly.
Just like retailers, hotels, and other direct customer-facing sectors, 3PLs also need to go the extra mile to out-run the competition. Incentives, gifts, loyalty programs, etc., have all been used but they can still change the perception of a company. These could be as simple as a birthday wish or greeting, a discount on a delivery, or even a free product. 3PLs, like all businesses, also need to rely on reputation management, especially online, and regularly monitor social media chatter and ensure that feedback is addressed quickly and efficiently.
Another standard for most 3PLs is the issue of tracking and reporting of goods. Though almost all companies provide customers with online tracking features through an app, website, or code, not every experience is the same. Here, 3PLs need to examine their customer experience through the look-and-feel, dashboard, ease-of-use, and user experience (UX). Customers who have not received goods already paid for or those whose parcels have been misplaced are not to be messed with! Thus, apart from simply tracking there are other features that can be added including “access to real-time data about inventory. [Thus] if an item is running low, you can quickly order more [and if] it means customers aren’t purchasing items that you don’t have in stock and you can quickly and effectively replenish your supplies, making sure you can always meet demand.”
Further, for 3PLs, it is not just a case of tracking, real-time updates, and personalized gifts. For customers, there is much more to brand loyalty and retention. Packaging of goods, delivery-person attitude, demeanor, and politeness, and even type, frequency, and duration of communication. All of these can add up in a customer’s mind and play out across various negative scenarios. It is key to keep up with customer expectations, their requirements, and where they feel improvements can be made. Customer listening is imperative and can shape the way the brand is perceived. Feedback, whether positive or negative, needs to be understood and acted upon. The same concern seen repeatedly will drive a customer away. Customers understand imperfections and business problems but they do not care for insincerity, disregard for their time/money, or inaction. It is key to be in constant touch, especially, during crises as saying nothing can sometimes be worse than saying the wrong thing.
Though 3PLs may not always be as in-your-face as retail brands, with online shopping, eCommerce, and digital payments becoming the norm, customers are now directly facing and experiencing providers within this industry. Thus, the experience must be positive along the entire supply chain similar to what retailers called the omni-channel experience across all touch-points.