By Matthew Robertson, Co-CEO, NetDespatch.
With the eDelivery Expo, the UK's largest retail, fulfilment and final mile conference, taking place on 21 and 22 March, 2018 this got me thinking about the importance of final mile, customer service and operational excellence.
The three topics which are key themes at next week's event are all inextricably linked. To get the final mile right, you need to be operating productively but you also need to be working hard with your customers to deliver a good experience – an experience that they value. With the options for customer delivery rapidly growing and with some retailers even providing an hourly delivery option, the way you manage the final mile or last-mile is fast becoming a key way to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
But is everything about the last-mile?
Is the final mile the most important criteria as far as consumers are concerned? Will the carrier that offers the fastest last-mile service or the cheapest last-mile service win the race, and the hearts and minds of their customers?
No they won't. Don't get me wrong, delivering a fast and reliable final mile service is important, but parcel delivery is still also about customer convenience, customer service and meeting expectations.
Defining good customer service will be different for different organisations but essentially it boils down to a company meeting or surpassing a customer's expectation and ultimately how we feel about that service or delivery and so on. And as you can see, it is quite emotive.
Let's think about it for a moment: what do we do when we, as customers, have an issue or a bad customer experience, unrelated to how quickly we received the parcel? If the wrong goods were sent, or the goods were damaged in transit, do we say: "well it doesn't matter as least they were sent quickly to me"? No, of course not. Our experience impacts on our perception - rightly or wrongly - of that carrier, retailer and anyone else involved in the supply chain.
Technology - an enabler - but not always a force for good
In today's digital world, technology reigns supreme. It allows consumers to track packages, book orders online, and for carriers to book shipments, manage inventory, and a lot more via smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
But when something unexpected happens, for example your parcel doesn't arrive when you were expecting it to, or the wrong goods were delivered or your parcel was damaged, technology can also be an inhibitor. You want to speak to someone, but picking up the phone may involve being put on hold for hours or jumping through hoops just to speak to a person. Even worse, what if there is no phone number available, but instead just an email address? This is where social media has become a quick way to find assistance and equally a quick way to vent frustration.
Speak to any retailer and they will tell you that delivering a good customer experience and ultimately having happy customers is a companywide goal. Improving two-way communication with consumers regarding their delivery expectations, parcel tracking, and resolution of delivery queries is top of mind. Likewise for the carrier the ability to track and take proactive dynamic action is critical so that any in-transit issues such as rerouting or expediting shipments can be undertaken.
It's tough getting customer service right
But what happens when customer experience and service conflicts with other company priorities, such as cost savings like re-routing orders because it just doesn't make economic sense? The final mile is by far the most expensive part of the delivery and logistics companies and carriers are looking for ways to deliver this part of the parcel journey in the most cost-effective way. So I go back to my comment earlier, the fastest final mile delivery may well not deliver the happiest customers. Likewise the cheapest final mile may not deliver the best customer service. Furthermore technology, whilst usually an enabler, can also be the source of much frustration where the consumer is concerned.
So here are my top tips for exceptional customer service
- Ensure customer service is consistent and not siloed across different channels including in-store, online, and mobile.
- Establish and understand roles for each partner, and ensure technology tools and real-time data are shared with the customer allowing for a seamless delivery process.
- A retailer's responsibility does not end when it hands off a package to its last-mile delivery partner. Follow up with the customer to make sure the package was delivered on time and not damaged, and don't forget to ask if the customer is completely satisfied with their experience.
- Think about ways that you can use technology for good, i.e. automating the shipping and parcel labelling process.
- Think about the parts of the process that are invisible to the customer that can be easily automated.
Customer experience and service begins when the customer enters the store or website and continues all the way to the customer's front door and, in some cases, beyond. By keeping the customer in the loop and providing them with tools to participate in delivery time selection and shipment tracking, the customer is more likely to return again and again to do business with both the retailer and the carrier. Here at NetDepatch we help carriers and retailers alike automate their shipping process and ensure that goods are picked, packed, and parcels labelled correctly in order to ensure that this part of the customer journey is as good as it can be.
So as I head off to the eDelivery Expo, top of mind for me will be ensuring that I help the industry deliver great customer service and maintain happy customers.