As global supply chains extend outward and become increasingly intertwined, keeping up with evolving customer expectations isn’t getting any easier. Here are four ways to do it.
With Amazon’s Prime program alone shipping 5 billion items worldwide last year, the logistics and transportation industry is in unprecedented growth mode right now. And with more companies jumping onto the e-commerce bandwagon, the number of supply chains twisting and intertwining around the globe will surely increase over the new few years.
These realities put new pressures on companies to shore up their supply chains and ensure that these critical networks can meet customers’ demands in the most profitable and efficient manner possible. “The ‘Amazon effect’ has already changed shipping, logistics, employment, and brick-and-mortar stores, and e-commerce shows no signs of slowing down,” Shorr Packaging points out in The Amazon Effect: Impacts on Shipping and Retail.
“By understanding the reach of e-commerce, companies can plan their business strategy to take advantage of e-commerce’s significant impact and learn how to provide their customers with what they want- a personalized shopping experience, affordable shipping,” it adds, “and a wide variety of available products.”
4 Ways to Improve the Supply Chain
As e-commerce and other trends continue to impact the logistics landscape—and the end users and business partners that it serves—consider these four strategies for keeping up with those demands:
- Pay close attention to increased customer service demands. In a world where we’re all used to getting what we want fairly immediately and right from our mobile devices, both B2B and B2C customers have similar expectations. This is a critical aspect of the modern-day supply chain, which must be orchestrated in a way that both meets and exceeds those demands. “Not only do consumers want their purchases now, they also want to track the process from A to Z. Rapid delivery expectations put pressure on both fulfillment centers and drivers,” John Hill writes in Satisfying Customer Demand in a 365 E-Commerce Market. A long-time transportation technology expert, Hill notes that the keys to excellent customer service in this environment include greater transparency and visibility, both of which empower customers to actively track and locate their top-of-mind or high-dollar merchandise. By working with a reputable, reliable logistics service provider, companies can ensure that the right goods get to the right place and at the right time…every time (and with maximum efficiency).
- Utilize new technologies to your advantage.If your warehouse operators are still toting clipboards around and if your transportation department is still making multiple phone calls to secure capacity, it’s time to check out some of the advanced technologies available on the market. Using automated technologies in the warehouse, for instance, can help reduce delays during the shipping process and cut down on human error. Software like warehouse management systems (WMS) and transportation management systems (TMS) can help ease even more of the burden while freeing up staff to focus on more important tasks.
- Factor your people into the equation. Technology may be impacting every corner of our lives right now, but that doesn’t minimize the need for the “human touch” when it comes to the global supply chain. The fact that more consumers are buying online, for example, has created an even bigger need for good customer support, service, and even returns management (i.e., because fewer customers are getting “face to face” with brick-and-mortar employees). In 5 supply chain challenges, Fleet Owner’sJoseph Evangelist points to the trucking industry as a particularly important “people” link in the typical supply chain. “Without the right people, freight can’t move,” Evangelist writes. “Whether it’s drivers, technicians, dispatchers, managers, etc., the entire supply chain needs to look beyond its typical recruiting efforts to get more people involved in the transportation of goods.”
- Go digital sooner rather than later. Digital supply chains are gaining in popularity because they help companies work better, smarter, and faster in today’s competitive environment. They also help to ensure a more streamlined, predictable customer experience—something no company can afford to ignore in the current business climate. Some digitization efforts might be more incremental in nature, like connecting machine assets on a manufacturing line to analytics, while others might be “net new” digital capabilities, like providing connectivity to products in the field to enable new services to customers. In most cases, an experienced logistics provider can help bridge the gap between a firm’s existing processes and its digital supply chain efforts. “[Third-party logistics providers] have a lot of technology that can help enable part of your digital strategy and provide better visibility, rather than you spending your capex on trying to create those capabilities,” St. Onge Co.’s Norm Saenz points out in Your Path to the Digital Supply Chain.
Shippers that are trying to wrap their arms around the new realities of supply chain management should talk to their logistics providers and/or explore new relationships that can help them get to the next level. The best logistics will help your firm stay on top of the latest technology (without breaking the bank), improve order accuracy, provide cost-effective shipping solutions, and accommodate future business growth—all in a very efficient and effective manner.