Sometimes, last mile deliveries can feel a little bit like an example of Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. And there’s a lot that can go wrong: late deliveries, early deliveries, damaged items, botched installations… the list goes on. But more than any of these possible pitfalls, the number one factor that consumers blame for poor delivery experiences is quite simple: poor communication.
By now, consumers have had plenty of experience during which to form a strong opinion. Big and bulky delivery volumes have been increasing, and more consumers than ever have experienced scheduled deliveries in the past couple of years. A majority of respondents in our 2022 Big and Bulky Delivery Report said that they planned to purchase more big and bulky items this coming year than they did last year—and as volumes continue to increase, the standard for a great delivery experience will become more and more codified. Brands that can’t provide that experience are going to have an increasingly difficult time finding new customers and holding onto existing ones.
Luckily, a lot of what makes a great delivery experience—according to consumers—is within your control as a retailer or distributor. There’s not much you can do about traffic jams (well, you can predict them and route around them, but that’s a topic for another article), catastrophic weather, or global supply chain disruptions—but you are in complete control of how you communicate with customers throughout the delivery process.
Why Is Great Last Mile Communication Such a Challenge?
Our studies have shown that consumers blame poor communication for lackluster delivery experiences more often than they blame poor item conditions, high delivery fees, or any other factor. It’s easy to see why communication is so important to consumers: something like a furniture or appliance purchase usually represents a huge expense, and consumers are anxious for things to go smoothly. If there’s a delivery disaster, they may be stuck with a malfunctioning fridge or a three-footed sofa for even longer than they anticipated. When they have a clear sense of when their order is going to be fulfilled, when it’s going to be delivered, and what to expect throughout the process, that anxiety starts to fade into the background.
Like we said above, when you’re fulfilling somebody’s delivery order, you’re essentially in complete control over how you communicate with customers. So why is this such a common stumbling block when it comes to last mile deliveries?
Here are a few reasons:
- Phone calls don’t scale: Our research shows that most consumers vastly prefer texts to calls anyway (it was the preferred communication method for 70% of respondents), but any communication method you have to manually send out messages one at a time is going to be an issue whenever you’re delivering more than a dozen orders per day.
- Last mile visibility is a challenge: It might sound obvious, but in order to keep customers updated throughout the fulfillment process, you need to be sure that all of your own information is also up-to-date. If you don’t know what stop the delivery truck is at, you can’t let other customers on the route know when their deliveries are next in line.
- Estimating arrival times by hand can involve a lot of guesswork: It doesn’t really count as transparency if you inform your customers the morning of the delivery that the driver will be at the delivery site between 8 am and 6 pm. Unfortunately, even once drivers have started their routes it can be hard to effectively predict when the truck will arrive if you don’t have the right tools for doing so. This means that you can’t consistently let customers know when their orders are 30 minutes away, for instance.
Of course, one of the biggest hurdles to deal with is the fact that you still need to deliver at the right time in order to create a great experience. But customer expectations aren’t developing out of thin air—consumer expectations are changing precisely because they’ve seen that it’s possible to avoid these missteps and create delightful experiences.
What Do Consumers Want When it Comes to Communication?
Okay, we’ve talked about what makes effective last mile communication difficult—but what does it actually look like when everything goes according to plan? In other words, what does great communication look like from the customer’s perspective? Here, the data from our recent report can tell us a lot.
Perhaps the most striking finding is that 90% of consumers want to be able to track their delivery orders. Those 90% break down fairly evenly into those who want to be able to see the truck’s location in real-time on a map versus those who feel like they just need a general idea. And yet, more than 30% of consumers weren’t able to track their last delivery—and only 28% were able to see the truck’s location in real time.
Consumers also want frequent order status updates before and during the day of delivery. 80% want to receive frequent updates, with a large majority (66%) in favor of updates on a daily basis at minimum.
And if you find that you need to reschedule a delivery, your ability to communicate in a timely manner and ensure a frictionless customer experience is crucial. Rescheduled deliveries have quickly become the norm—58% of big and bulky deliveries wind up being rescheduled at least once, which is fairly unsurprising given the onslaught of global supply chain crises that have impacted manufacturers, shippers, and everyone in between in the past couple of years. And consumers are willing to give companies some leeway there, as long the process isn’t too onerous.
Unfortunately, more than half of respondents found the rescheduling process to be a hassle. Here, it’s all a matter of ensuring clear, timely, and helpful communications. If you can make this happen, you can set yourself apart from the competition.
How to Transform Your Customer Communications
Okay, we’ve seen what strong customer communication in last mile delivery looks like. We’ve also talked about exactly why providing that kind of communication has historically been so difficult—so what’s the solution for delivery organizations? On some level, providing the level of communication that your customers need starts with your technology. You need a few capabilities right off the bat:
- Automated texts, emails, and phone calls: You need to be able to both send these in batches to everyone along a particular route and trigger individual messages based on driver/order statuses and locations.
- Real-time last mile visibility: In order to give your customers accurate, up-to-date delivery information, data has to move quickly and precisely within and across your own organization. This requires connected systems throughout the entire supply chain, but particularly when it comes to inventory, delivery management, route optimization, and driver management. On the last mile in particular, your system needs to be able to track driver locations and statuses against route plans in order to update ETAs in real time.
- Customer order tracking: Once you’ve got the level of visibility that we described in the last bullet, it can be incredibly impactful to turn that visibility around and offer it up to your customers. When they can track their own orders in real-time from the comfort of their own phones, tablets, and laptops, there’s less reason for customers to call in anxiously about their orders. At the same time, there’s less likelihood that they’ll step out at exactly the wrong moment and miss the delivery.
- Consistent right-time deliveries: Customers are absolutely more forgiving about certain kinds of disruptions than they were pre-pandemic. But they’re still not going to be thrilled about getting communications that show disorganized and unpredictable deliveries. When you’re maximizing the visibility that you offer customers, the best thing you can do from a customer experience perspective is to offer visibility into something that’s working smoothly.
Getting your delivery operations just right from the customer’s perspective can be complex, but the path to providing this kind of customer experience is actually pretty simple: you need the right technology. Specifically, you need right-time delivery management software that can create agility within your organizations and connectivity across your various touchpoints. This way, your communications to customers won’t regularly go wrong—and neither will the deliveries themselves.