Posted by Guru Rao

Today’s consumers are high-maintenance. They expect an end-to-end experience that’s reliable, convenient and consistent. And the world’s largest retailers, being privy to this, are locked in competition to differentiate themselves (Walmart focuses on pricing, Amazon on convenience, Hammacher on unique products, etc.). Each is trying, in its own way, to give customers an exceptional experience that will make them want to come back for more.

Are you?

Granted, making your retail services stand out from the crowd isn’t as simple as picking a consumer benefit out of a hat and delivering it. You’re limited, after all, to what your supply chain resources can achieve.

That’s why your goal should be extending the flexibility of your existing assets so they can generate greater value for your business. In a lot of ways, supply management is a zero-sum game. Whether you’re scaling back on your own operational costs to cycle savings back into your processes, or you’re using your existing brick-and-mortar inventories to make faster deliveries, any additional value that you can salvage or maximize ultimately trickles down to the consumer. Wringing as much of that value as possible into the customer experience needs to be your utmost priority.

Put the last mile first

Delivery management in the final mile of your downstream supply chain is one of the best opportunities to create value in your operations by increasing the flexibility of your resources.

Case in point, 9 out of 10 consumers see free shipping as the No. 1 incentive to shop online, according to a Walk Sands Future of Retail study. This puts pressure on any retailer or carrier contending in the e-commerce space to find innovate new ways to deliver on these customer expectations. Perhaps they could take a page out of Walmart’s book and begin offering free ship-to-store orders or crowd-sourcing employees to execute store-to-door home delivery.

And, if they can’t provide free shipping, they’ll need to generate differentiating value in other ways – for example, two-hour delivery appointment windows. There’s no doubt that the customer is king and that they crave low-cost convenience, but they can still be won over with other value-add offers.

The hard part is finding them in your supply chain.

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Optimize downstream routing

To create value-add opportunities for customers, you first need a delivery management solution that’s inherently designed to facilitate downstream flexibility. All of your stakeholders (company fleets, third-party carriers, white-glove delivery services, etc.) must be accounted for and integrated into the system so you have 100-percent visibility into you existing resources.

Secondly, you’ll need automatic route optimization. Manual planning has its place in the last mile, but high delivery volumes require a precise, mathematical approach to route planning. Every one of your downstream drivers is a variable; analytics-based route optimization spins them into an efficiency equation to maximize value yield. By taking cost dynamics into account, automatic route optimization can bring new value-add opportunities to the surface and even make it possible to launch innovate initiatives such as crowd sourcing.

Finally, you need to keep consumers abreast of status updates to their packages. This will help you manage their expectations and shape their understanding of satisfaction.

Customer satisfaction isn’t actually pie in the sky, or a Holy Grail. But it certainly is the end goal, and for the first time in a long time, it’s within your reach.

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Modern retail's Holy Grail: Customer satisfaction