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3 Guidelines for the Logistics Industry in the Age of Business Transparency

By Eric Kierstead, CIO, BeavEx Incorporated

Eric Kierstead, CIO, BeavEx Incorporated

One of the big talking points these days is “Business Transparency”. Companies are constantly being reviewed, rated and ranked on the internet for the world to see. And when it comes to Logistics, the story is not always pretty. For example, it was not long ago that a final mile courier company could miss a delivery window, and while they might upset the person waiting for the delivery, the negative press would not go far beyond that person. Now, that individual can go online and share their experience with the world. While the courier may not love that kind of exposure, the vast majority of us would agree that this ability, this power, to quickly share feedback with the world is a good thing.

"Logistics websites and portals tend to focus on real time, “control tower” information regarding how things are going at that moment in time"

So what can Logistics companies do to maximize the positive reviews they are getting online? Obviously by creating a consistently positive customer experience. Online reviews are arguably more powerful than any corporate marketing that is either online or in print. In many ways, customer reviews have become the new marketing. Think about this: how many times in the last year have you bought something because of an ad you saw? Now, how many times in the last year have you bought something because of a customer review you saw? The majority of us are far more influenced by customer reviews.

Here are three ideas that lead to positive reviews in the new world of Business Transparency. One of the key takeaways is that these actions do not require any massive operational shifts in your company. They are largely just common sense and etiquette. And while they do require technology investments, those investments will likely return significant ROI: 

1. Keep your customers informed. Constantly keep your customers aware of where you are on their account. For example, sticking with the final mile courier example, wouldn’t it be nice if the customer received emails at every milestone event, telling them where their order is in its lifecycle. Then as a finishing touch, offer a timeline regarding what’s going to happen next. For example, if a customer ordered something overseas and ithasjust cleared customs, send an email like this: “Good news! Your shipment has cleared US Customs. It is now in transit to you domestically. We anticipate final delivery will occur in three to five days”. If you provide that level of information, the customer should never feel lost in the process. 

2. Be proactive. Keep customers informed before they have a chance to call you, email you, or post something negative online about you. For example, we are often told something like this: “delivery window is from 8 am – 2 pm, the driver will call an hour before arriving.”   Wouldn’t it be nice to tell the customer where they were in the delivery sequence, before the truck even left the warehouse? Most companies know the route the driver is going to take, so it is easy to let people know what number they are on the delivery route. If the driver falls behind during the route, send an email letting the customer know there is a delay. Estimate the amount of the delay and provide a new ETA. It does not have to be perfect. The vast majority of customers will appreciate the effort.

3. Empower the customer with excellent self-help technology.Steps one and twomay sound like a lot of extra work. They do not have to be. Empower customers to get the information themselves online. A world class supply chain visibility portal goes a long way in customer satisfaction. This is an area where Logistics is historically weak. Our industry has collectively fallen down on customer-facing technology. Anyone who has sat around all day waiting for a delivery that never arrived will probably agree. 

What good customer-facing technology looks like 

Logistics websites and portals tend to focus on real time, “control tower” information regarding how things are going at that moment in time. It is understandable, as that is the most important information we can provide customers. But what about the past? What if the customer wants to know how their logistics company has performed over the past week, month or year? It is usually the customer, not the logistics company, burdened with tracking that data. Also, what about financials? It is very likely that your customer wants to know cost-per-transaction and several other financial metrics.  Again, if they want those numbers, they are probably compiling them themselves. Going back to point two above, wouldn’t it be nice if the logistics company proactively gave that data to their customers? Here are some thoughts on what good customer-facing technology looks like in the age of Business Transparency:

1. Give the customer both real-time andhistoricalreporting.Ultimately, logistics customers want a comprehensive view of both real time and historical performance. If you do both you’ll have your bases covered. When it comes to historical reporting, you will occasionally show the customer a metric they will not like, for example your On-Time Arrival percent.  However, it is unlikely they will leave you over it. After all, you were the one who told them about it in the first place. If played well, it could lead to a good business conversation and an improved relationship.

2. Over-inform your customers through technology. I cannot remember a customer ever complaining because we gave them too much information. On the flip side, I have heard many times that the customer was not informed about a malady in their supply chain and now they are angry. Set up your portal to send customer emails on milestone events. Make it so the customer can configure what events trigger emails. That way, if they are not informed of a significant event, they only have to look in a mirror to find someone to yell at. 

3. Make your technology easy to use and provide excellent documentation. An intriguing statistic that we will never see is how many good technology products failed due to poor user interfaces. On the flip side, there are several examples of technology that succeeded spectacularly because of excellent user interfaces (Google, Apple, Amazon). Generally speaking, technology is only as good as its user interface. Ideally, your customer-facing system should not even require documentation. It should be so easy, so intuitive, that supporting documentation goes completely unread. But always provide some, just in case.