Supply Chain Technology Helps Manage Customer Expectations

Online Retailers Improve Customer Experience Using Technology

Consumers and the Omnichannel Customer Experience

You do not need to be an Amazon Prime member to know that most consumers today order online, often from several different channels.  It seems like consumers are using Google and mobile devices to search for everything from video games to real estate and everything in between.  Between reviews on social media, posts on Facebook, videos on You Tube, consumer advice and shopping opportunities are rampantly taking over the Internet.  Shopping online is hot and the supply chain is still making adjustments.

Internet retailers are constantly challenged to hold the attention of potential customers shopping online.  But how do you do this?  With so many pop up ads, videos and other interruptions in consumer concentration, how do supply chain businesses ensure that the focus is on their brands?

Foremost to those shopping online is the customer experience.  Can the potential customer find what is needed?  Does the shopping cart work properly?  Is the information provided about inventory in store locations accurate in real time?  According to consumers, the customer experience matters-it is what keeps the customer returning to that particular brand.  Online shopping that results in dissatisfied consumers is disastrous for brands.

Efficient, accurate logistics and inventory management are important cornerstones when building the foundation for an excellent customer experience. In today’s busy world, consumers use mobile devices including Smartphones, tablets and notebook computers to purchase goods via e-commerce and tend to research and shop online before making a purchase.  This increases the importance of information visibility as well as inventory and delivery information accuracy.

To build brand loyalty with customers, whether they are businesses or consumers, retailers need to have a consistent omnichannel strategy, create omnichannel supply chains and ensure accurate information remains visible to consumers-but what does this actually mean?

Consistency in the omnichannel experience is paramount.  This means that when consumers engage with your brand-no matter where and how this occurs via email, web, mobile devices, social media, kiosks, online chat, catalogues, online surveys, physical locations such as brick and mortar storefronts or service centers or via contact with customer service or support, the brand experience should look and feel the same, even if a third party vendor is providing that service.  As consumers move from channel to channel, it should seem like a seamless experience, not different visual design, perspectives, functionality, offers, etc.

Why is this important?  Having this continuity helps the consumer feel confident that the online retailer is stable, honorable and capable of fulfilling their needs.  When brands all look and feel the same across all channels, they seem familiar and trustworthy to consumers.  Consumers tend to feel more bonded to these brands, as if the brand has experience with them personally and understands their needs, requirements and expectations.

Technology Helps Present a Seamless Omnichannel Experience for Your Brand

Technology can play a vital role in helping to ensure this consistency.  From Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to mobile applications, cloud-enabled systems and online chat, online retailers and other supply chain businesses can standardize the brand experience across all channels, ensuring that the necessary information about their customers is accurate, available and always at the ready in real time for use in taking and fulfilling orders.

Online shoppers are a fickle bunch.  Today’s consumers highly value fast, accurate deliveries and often consider having multiple forms of delivery to be essential.  Gone are the days when consumers drove from store to store wasting gas and time, looking for sales and in stock inventory.  Today’s savvy consumer shops online then makes purchases via an e-commerce gateway and arranges delivery or pick up at their choice of locations.  Clearly it is a different world.

Once again, here is where technology plays a role.  Customer service representatives need to have real time access to accurate information about inventory on store shelves across the enterprise as well as other key information.  Consumers need to be able to also have accurate real time access to inventory availability when making purchases online.

Young customer service operator talking on headset, smiling.

In order to be able to process or change orders, deliveries, returns and more, CSRs and consumers rely on data from ERPs and warehouse management systems.  Customer service representatives need to be able to have detailed information about inventory in all retail store locations as well as in third party logistics warehouses and distribution centers.  Warehouse management software must be flexible enough to allow changes to orders, deliveries and other functions and the information must be immediately available in real time so that it can be communicated digitally to the customer.

Consumers also want to be kept informed about the status of orders and deliveries.  Whether via text message, email or mobile app, consumers expect their brands to keep them up to date via real time notifications and alerts.

Young man looking at shoes online. Man looking at various shoes options over internet through digital tablet. Casual man makes online shopping at home with digital tablet.

Did you know that industry studies indicate that 80% of consumers are less likely to visit a retailer’s brick and mortar store if their website fails to include current product availability?  Ordering online does not necessarily mean that the consumer wants home delivery.  Often consumers want to buy online and pick up the goods at a store nearby.  Not having accurate real time information about the availability of inventory could be more than just annoying for consumers, it could be a deal breaker for your brand.

Inventory visibility should be available across the enterprise for more than just consumers.  In an omnichannel world, retailers need to be able to distribute inventory across multiple location including retail stores, warehouses, third party warehouse facilities, vendors and more.  Using a warehouse management system (WMS) that can provide that information can help companies to determine the optimum fulfillment source from which to pull inventory to ensure the fastest delivery and most affordable service.

Consumers are Educating Themselves before Making Buying Decisions

Today’s consumer is interested in far more than just orders and deliveries.  Today, consumers expect that supply chain operations are integrated and utilize cutting edge technology.  This is the reality of doing business in a digital omnichannel world.

Customers now want information on where goods are sourced, prepared, processed and packaged as well as on the companies that provide these services.  Consumers have taken an active interest in the reputation and business practices of vendors and suppliers including whether the methods they use are environmentally friendly, sustainable, ethical, organic and free of genetic modification.  This adds another layer of information to systems that consumers want to access.  Track and trace, product traceability and authentication are important issues for consumers.

Because many goods are subject to counterfeit and safety issues, consumers often conduct research before purchasing.  Customer reviews, social media postings by companies and other digitally accessible information can be important considerations when making buying decisions and play into the value of consumer brand loyalty.

Online Retailers are Behind in Using Technology

When it comes to retail, CEOs report their concern that their companies are not yet utilizing technology in the best way to benefit their businesses.  According to a January 2017 report by PWC, business operations tend to be in “silos”, focused on executing against their specific KPIs.  This does not necessarily mean that their respective outputs are aligned with customer expectations, demands or experiences.  Realigning organizations around customer-centric operating models and KPIs help to focus towards the common goal of providing an exceptional customer experience.

It’s all about the Customer Experience (CX)

Yesterday, it was all about price.  Now, retailers differentiate themselves through the type of Customer Experience they provide.  True, consistency, convenience, pricing play vital roles but it is the experience that consumers have with your brand that matters to them.  Retailers need to pay attention to what matters to consumers and here is where technology can play a role.

Every business knows that we need to all listen to our customers.  Smart business owners and operating executives listen to customers and make changes to the business in order to make customers happier, improve the company and thereby increase profitability.

Customer service survey

Known as the ”Voice of the Customer”, retailers often rely on a process that is used to capture feedback and requirements from customer, both internal and external so that improvements can be made to the business, making it “best in class” in terms of service and product quality.  By being proactive, companies can be better positioned to deal with challenges as they happen and to make changes to the business as tastes, habits and requirements are altered over time.

VoC can be captured using a variety of methods including face-to-face interviews, in person, online and mobile surveys and other means such as focus groups, field reports, complaint logs, and more.  Implementing customer suggestions then communicating the execution of this helps to ensure.  Changes can be implemented based upon priority, Pareto’s 80/20 Principle or other means.

Technology, including software applications can help with this.  From Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM), Customer Experience Management systems to mobile applications, supply chain and logistics companies can rely on technology to gauge results, document processes and essential information and provide data that can be analyzed for improved decision making and changes to operational processes.

Customers Want Accuracy, Transparency & Visibility

Whether it is track and trace, order status, shipments and deliveries or information about returns, being able to provide accurate, real time information to customers is essential.  Supply chain customers and partners need to be able to see across the entire supply chain logistics network so information needs to be able to flow seamlessly.  Having access to Big Data for analysis helps online retailers and supply chain businesses spot trends, create efficiencies, re-engineer supply chains and become more efficient.  This helps to reduce the cost of goods, including shipping.

Being able to see across the supply chain network is also important for other reasons.  Many goods are produced half a world away, in global locations that are affected by war, disastrous weather and environmental concerns, terrorism and other factors.  Managing supply chain risk and alleviating potential disruptions in supply is critical to fulfilling orders and having happy, satisfied customers.

Not being able to plan in advance and have a failsafe option can mean that orders and shipments become disrupted, disappointing customers and causing damage to your brand.

Seamless Systems Integration:  Talking to Each Other

Relying on older, outdated technology and manual paper-based processes is a thing of the past.  Not having systems that are integrated so that they can “talk” to each other could be damaging to your brand and reputation.  It is not enough to have an omnichannel retail strategy.  To enable mobile shopping and online purchases, your business must be able to streamline orders and shipments and communicate with the systems used by your supply chain partners.

Manual operations, paper-based processes and spreadsheets typically have some of the highest error rates.  Think of all the time that is wasted in locating then correcting errors from transposed digits and illegible handwriting.  Those types of errors can be eliminated by integrating systems so that communication flows from one system to another without manual intervention.

Integrating systems reduces errors and saves time and labor.  This can enable your business to reduce costs and react more quickly so that you can process orders and shipments more quickly.

Better Returns = Improved Customer Satisfaction

Another issue for consumers concerns product returns.  Want to earn brand loyalty?  Make your company’s return policies simpler, clearer and easier to understand.  Making sure that consumers can easily return goods can help build the bond of trust and loyalty with online shoppers.

For B2B customers, make sure you have a clear reverse logistics policy that includes issues such as how problems will be remedied for installation of merchandise.  Be the brand that deserves the trust of your customers:  demonstrate your commitment to your customers by providing clear, robust reverse logistics policies that you can abide by and uphold.

Conclusion

Today’s consumer uses technology every day in the workplace and at home.  They understand that technology can help internet retailers provide them with more information, reduce costs, create efficiencies and operate at a faster pace. Digital retailing, traditional retailers and supply chain logistics companies need to utilize retail technology and other tech tools in order to create and uphold reverse logistics and goods returns processes that meet customer needs, provide real time, accurate information visibility and traceability and help make better decisions.  Providing a superior customer experience and consistent, seamless omnichannel experience for consumers who do mobile shopping can win brand loyalty and help make businesses more profitable.  This is the future of retail, embrace it.

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