Note: this article has been adapted from a piece by Alex Buckley (DispatchTrack’s EMEA General Manager) in The Retail Bulletin.
At the end of last year, McKinsey noted an important shift in consumer behavior. They found that of the poll respondents, “70 percent (had) switched retailers or brands instead (of waiting for the item to be back in stock).” In either words, customers who can’t get exactly the product they need exactly when they need it aren’t hesitating to switch sellers.
Even in the early days of 2022, the combined pressure of ongoing supply chain disruptions and increased customer expectations is making life challenging for retailers. It’s putting pressure on most businesses to manage their supplier more carefully in the hope of smoothing out the supply chain. But given the changes in customer buying habits and the waning power of customer loyalty, we’d argue that managing the delivery and fulfilment experiences you provide to your customers is just as important.
With that in mind, here are a few practical ways retailers can improve their customer delivery experiences.
Prioritize Transparency for Customers
Most businesses are already giving customers a fair amount of insight into inventory—i.e. whether or not a particular item is actually in-stock and able to be fulfilled. But that even that level of transparency often vanishes once the customer’s order has started the journey to the local distribution center and then on to the delivery site. But if you can add transparency to the fulfillment process from the moment the order is placed, you can seriously delight your customers and keep them from jumping ship to another retailer.
What does this look like in practice? It starts with proactive updates and alerts when an order is ready to be routed, when it’s been scheduled, and when it’s actually on its way to the customer’s door in the last mile process. Ideally, you’d also offer live tracking of customer orders once the truck is on its route—this way, customers can get answers about delivery times and ETAs from the comfort of their own devices. Studies show that customers don’t want to call in to the retailer to get information, so providing them with a reliable alternative can have a huge impact on the overall experience.
Customer experience is about a lot of things—which means that a lot of things have to go right in order to really impress your customers. Transparency is incredibly important—but showing live updates to customers is only as valuable as what the updates actually are. If you’re offering visibility into a delivery that’s gone way off track, you’re not necessarily going to get extra points for customer experience.
That’s why one of the most important elements of delivery experience is delivering on time. It’s easy to overlook this facet of the last mile when you’re focusing on providing visibility and creating a customer communication flow that speaks to your brand, but getting the right product to the right place at the right time is non-negotiable. Even with big and bulky items, consumers increasingly want to feel confident that their orders will arrive within whatever time window the retailer offers (ideally a time window that’s only a couple of hours long). Of course, this is easier said than done—but with the right route optimization technology you can ensure on-time deliveries. Once you’re confident that you can make good on your delivery promises, you can offer experiences that really put you ahead of your competitors.
Provide Real-Time Two-Way Communication Throughout the Delivery Experience
Customers like to be in the know. And they like to feel confidence when it comes to delivery times. But what’s even more empowering is the feeling that they’re actually connected to the retailer fulfilling their order. What’s the best way to make this happen? Provide two-way communication between you and your customers.
Like we said, customers don’t want to have to pick the phone and call just to find out when their orders are going to show up—and that feeling holds true for when something crops up on the day of delivery. If they can let you know that they’re running late getting home, or that the delivery driver shouldn’t ring the doorbell, or that the new ETA doesn’t work for them simply by replying to a text or email message, the entire process is smoother and easier. Plus, it gives you the ability to solve customers’ problems in real time.
This can go a long way towards keeping customers happy—but it can also be a big help when it comes to reducing failed deliveries. The easier it is to communicate with customers on the day of delivery, the less likely it is that your truck will wind up arriving at an empty house. In this way, customer experience translates explicitly into a way to decrease disruptions and ultimately optimize delivery costs.
Get Creative with the Customer’s Journey
Every email, text, and even phone call is an extension of your brand—which means that every communication touchpoint after the customer clicks “submit” on their order is a chance to keep the customer engaged and offer them an extension of the great buying experience they just completed. One of the easiest ways to make that happen is simply to power up the look and feel of your last mile communications: Include your brand identity and color scheme in your emails. Make sure your brand voice comes through in the messages you’re sending. Remind customers that they’re being taken care of by the same brand whose products or services they rely on.
This kind of attention to the last mile customer experience can have a big impact. It helps buyers stay engaged and builds trust in your brand. When this is a major part of the real-time order tracking experience, the entire fulfillment process can become more connected, enabling retailers to be more dynamic in how you handle your logistics operations.
Boost Supply Chain Visibility
Everything we’ve talked about to this point can help you decrease failed deliveries and not-at-homes, all while decreasing expensive phone time. Customer experience might sound like something that’s just “nice to have,” but in point of fact it’s a key part of creating operational efficiency in an era where it’s more crucial than ever. It’s not just about creating customer loyalty (though that’s incredibly important!), it’s about matching up customer expectations to what your drivers can actually deliver in a way that reduces disruptions.
We’ve already talked about how important route optimization can be for making promises your drivers can actually keep—but if we work backwards even further, we can see how one of the most important prerequisites for providing the kind of elevated retail deliveries we’re describing is to make supply chain visibility a top priority,
To be clear, when we say supply chain visibility, we’re talking about something incredibly specific: the ability to get to the right information before it goes stale. In other words, supply chain visibility isn’t just about collecting information as the delivery unfolds—it’s about making that information immediately available and easy to find. To make this happen, collect status updates from drivers in the field throughout the day of delivery and display those updates in real time from a single dashboard.
Bonus points if you can configure automated alerts for certain kinds of disruptions or automatically flag delivery exceptions so that dispatchers can’t miss them. You always need to expect the unexpected in the last mile, and supply chain visibility helps you turn the unexpected into new opportunities to delight your customers.
At the end of the day, retailers who are able to be proactive, rather than reactive, throughout the fulfillment process are in the best position to delight their customers. In this way, you can provide elevated customer delivery experiences that will keep customers happy and encourage repeat visits to your store or site.