In a previous post, we mentioned that the two most significant megatrends of our time are EX (Employee Experience) and CX (Customer experience).
Hence, it has been said many times over that a customer-centric approach creates more success for business. This idea was quite the revolution five years ago and still heavily influences a lot of today’s corporate and supply chain strategies.
On the other hand, the execution of said strategies have been far from perfect even after all this time. The problem lies not so much in the core concept of improving a customer’s experience, but rather the varying perceptions many people have about it (including the customers themselves)!
For some (perhaps in marketing) customer-centric approaches involve a lot of mobile access. For manufacturers and product designers, it can be about creating quality items. Meanwhile, those in logistics prioritize getting a customer’s orders filled and delivered on time, in full, to the right address, with no damage and invoiced correctly.
There is no doubt that all of these are important. But in practice, these can still clash and create less than optimal results. It is imperative for supply chain leaders to really address the perception of ‘customer experience’ across the board. Here are a few tips to get you started:
#1. The Supply Chain actually starts with the customer
Have you ever noticed that when supply chain teams outline their flow, they start with the manufacturer or the raw material supplier?
Where does that place the customer? At the very end.
The customer centric model requires us to put the customer first.
So what does this actually mean? Start by asking yourself this: When was the last time you spoke to a customer, not because they were complaining, but actually talked to one to understand their perspectives on all that is your business? If this was not done in at least the last week, then you are not customer-centric!
You need to be speaking to your customers weekly! Not the same customer, not every customer, just a few from each market segment (which, by the way are becoming more and more fragmented). There are so many things you can go about this!
- You can go with sales and marketing on their customer visits.
- You can be a customer yourself, or employ mystery shoppers.
- Get on your website and make your own order.
Did you get your delivery? Was it seamless, troublesome or trouble free? How would you rate your experience? Why? Why not?
Now, do the same for your competitor. How would you rate their experience? And again, ask the Whys and Why nots.
Now, you are getting the idea of customer-centricity. Everyone will have a different view, because they are coming at this from a different perspective. So because of this, it’s important that you communicate in quantitative measurable terms.
#2. Eschew vague definitions of standards and solutions.
Take the word ‘accessibility,’ for example. Everyone across the SC network understands that it means a customer has easier access to your business, but is that the limit of their understanding? If it is, then it is still too vague.
Start creating more specific, technical definitions of the standards. Consider making them more quantitative by adding metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that really shape out what your organization means by better customer experience.
The same goes for tools and technologies being used. It is not simply about making your business more mobile-friendly, or having more competent customer service personnel. It is about just how well these will really work for your supply chain. Make a habit of quickly prototyping and testing their compatibility with your customers and your operations. Make sure that the actual experience can really set the bar for your standards.
#3. Align with customer profiles and attitudes.
Let’s start with the trend of so-called ‘socially conscious’ brands and how they are advocating the idea that such messages will lead to more customers buying their products. However, according to a recent study from the MIT Sloan School of Management, there are limits to how effective this actually is.
A huge part of this is because customers themselves have varying perceptions of what they deem as ‘transparent’ or ‘socially aware’ brands. Given the complex web of today’s SC networks, many customers would limit their idea of transparency to one where they can directly see their money helping a low level factory worker in a third world country, (but not necessarily the farmer or the miner who provides the raw materials).
This is in line with the idea of customers really needing different profiles for you to better understand what changes they really want in their experience. Consider logistics as another example. Would your customers really pay for a higher-priced same-day delivery option when they would be happy enough just to pay a little less for a two-day guarantee? The answer will really depend on how well you intimately understand your of customer’s profile!
#4. The nuanced role of data.
Lastly, it is also important to know that the problem of perception extends to how you perceive the data you use to validate decision-making. Making sure that data is accurate, real-time and comes in large amounts is only the first half of what you need to do.
There is still no substitute for supplementing the findings of data with your own experience. Such is the only way to make sure that there is no disconnect between the numbers you have generated and what is actually going on in, say, one of your factories.
It is actually through the ignoring of hands-on experience that leads to data being compromised (be it through hacking, neglect or individuals just ‘gaming the system’). Make a point to always maintain regular first-hand experiences with customers and surround yourself with experts who do the same.
All in all, improving customer experience should always be a priority but initiatives to improve it often fail because the very idea has been based on vague aspirations and disconnected perceptions. Supply chain leaders must take more stringent measures to define it and use more direct experiences to truly make it a reality.