Last mile visibility has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years. On some level, this makes sense—it’s an incredibly important concept, one that impacts efficiency at every level of delivery operations, but it’s also one that can be difficult to define. Oftentimes, it feels like visibility is synonymous with GPS tracking and the ability to see a truck or van moving on a map. But as anyone who’s ever waited an hour and a half past the original ETA for a food delivery order can tell you, just being able to see that something is running massively late with no explanation doesn’t actually offer that much value.
For a more precise idea of what visibility is, we need to turns towards the group that ultimately decides whether a delivery is successful or not: the end customers. In DispatchTrack’s 2022 Big and Bulky Home Delivery Report, we found that nearly all consumers (90%) wanted the ability to track their orders. At the same time, more than two-thirds said that the best part of a good delivery experience was that the delivery was on time. In other words, order tracking is important—but it doesn’t make for great deliveries all by itself. Instead, you need to deliver at the right time, every time.
When you start to frame the concept of in terms of your customers’ needs, it becomes pretty obvious that you need to think of visibility in terms of how, exactly, it actually enables you to deliver at the right time. That’s why it’s time to start framing visibility in terms of clarity and control.
Why Visibility Needs to Be Synonymous with Clarity
Let’s imagine that you’re managing a host of deliveries for a given day. What data do you need at what time to achieve visibility? The obvious answer might be that you need as much information as you can get, whenever you can get it. But this has its pitfalls. You might be receiving a feed of everything from miles driven to items delivered to the exact time and geo-stamps for each completed last mile delivery, plus data about driver application usage, idling, hours of service, and a dozen other things.
To be sure, all of this information is important. All of it needs to be collected in real time and made available to you and your team as needed. But depending on how that information’s being presented to you, it’s easy to imagine getting completely overwhelmed by it—so much so that you actually have no idea what’s happening with your deliveries. You can answer a million questions that will important to you later, but if this data is coming in in an unstructured or chaotic way, you probably can/t answer the questions you most care about, e.g. are any of my deliveries running late, and is there anything I can do ensure that your deliveries stay on track?
Okay, we may be exaggerating to make a point—but it’s an important point: Visibility isn’t just about having as much data as possible as quickly as possible. It’s about presenting that data in such a way as to make it clear what’s actually happening with your deliveries. Instead of drowning under a mountain of information, you want to be able to absorb information at a glance and quickly visualize what’s going right vs. what might require some additional work to keep on track.
This, in a nutshell, is what we mean by clarity. It looks different at different stages in the delivery process (post-delivery clarity might look more like robust, easy-to-navigate reports, while clarity during a delivery run means that the right information is right in front of you at all times), but the key is that what’s happening with your deliveries needs to be clear from the presentation of data that you have. It’s not about having data that you can dig through to get to an answer—it’s about making the answer incredibly obvious from a single glance.
How to Leverage Visibility Into Delivery Control
Like we said above, the value of visibility comes from your ability to leverage it to improve customer satisfaction and ensure success. When you have the right data at the right time, and it’s presented to you in a way that makes it easy to gain clarity into your deliveries, you can begin to turn that clarity into concrete actions.
For instance, if you have live status report coming in from your drivers for each stop on their routes, and those live updates are checked against your ETA promises to see whether you’re still on pace to deliver at the right time, and your control tower or dashboard is designed to flag exceptions at a glance, you can spot problem deliveries without even trying. When you see that a truck is running late with a particular delivery, you can call the customer to let them know that the delivery won’t arrive at the original time. If the new time works for them, you get points for transparency—if it doesn’t, you can start finding a way to reroute to get the driver to the delivery site at a time that actually works.
This is just one example of how clarity into your deliveries via visibility might give you better control of the last mile. But it’s not hard to find other examples across the entire delivery process. On a more strategic level, full clarity and visibility into your fulfillment strategies can help you understand whether you actually have the capacity to meet customer demand or not—and then optimize your strategy to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your assets. By the same token, when you can see that a partial or incomplete delivery has taken place, you can follow up immediately. This gives your customers more confidence in your organization and gives you the chance to make things right—but it also helps you to stay efficient and keep your inventory moving.
Best Practices for Turning Visibility into Delivery Success
When you have true visibility—i.e. up-to-the-minute data presented in a way that’s actionable for whatever stage of the delivery process you’re in—you can gain a clear view of your deliveries and take control over what’s happening in the field. What that looks like in practice will be different for different organizations, but there are a few best practices that should work across the board.
- Offer customers visibility into flawless deliveries. Again, order tracking and visibility doesn’t help your customers if the deliveries are going wildly off track. The goal is to provide visibility into a process that’s already working—this way, you can build trust and improve confidence that the delivery will show up at the right time.
- Define visibility for each stage of the delivery process. When it comes to managers and dispatchers on the day of delivery, visibility might mean a real-time dashboard that gives you a bird’s eye view of every truck and route. For higher-ups, visibility might come in the form of reports. Visibility before the day of delivery might mean seamless integration between WMS, POS, and delivery management systems. But at each stage, you need the right visibility for the right people and processes.
- Centralize your data. Things move quickly when it comes to the last mile—by the time you’ve hunted through a few screens to find the right data, your information is out of date. That’s why having the right data in the right place at the right time means centralizing data into a single trucking software solution as much as possible, such that your delivery management platform, for instance, works as a single source of truth for making informed decisions in a timely way.
- Leverage predictive insights. On the day of delivery, this might mean utilizing AI to predict ETAs based on the latest status updates—and doing the same to model the likely effects of any changes to the plan. Ultimately, you want your visibility to extend into the near future, so you can make the right decision with confidence.
These best practices are just the tip of the iceberg. When you have true visibility—visibility that makes your entire operation easy to understand at a glance and helps you reach the right decisions more quickly—you really can take better control of your operations. The result is that it’s easier to keep customers happy, and your bottom improves as a result.