How Your Supply Chain Can Improve the Customer Experience

How chief supply chain officers can promote and implement processes that improve the customer experience.

This article has been updated from the original, published on August 3, 2017, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

Customers don’t just buy a product or service — they buy an experience. If that experience is a bad (negative) one, an excellent product or service will not make up for it. Customers want their interactions to be seamless, without boundaries and facilitated by dynamic processes.

These expectations have made customer experience a major consideration for chief supply chain officers (CSCOs). They are also driving the rise in customer-centric supply chain initiatives that create and protect value through collaborative programs developed hand in hand with customers.

Customers are influenced by their experience of the supply chain — even in the simplest terms, it’s easy to see that a late delivery can disappoint, whereas an expedited delivery can delight

“The supply chain organization typically plays a secondary role to marketing in driving customer experience strategy,” says Lisa Callinan, research director at Gartner. “Things are changing, however, in forward-thinking organizations, because the supply chain is uniquely placed to identify customers’ needs and drive better customer experiences.”

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Many household names, such as Amazon, Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Nokia, are already using supply chain expertise to enhance their customer experience strategy. “Customers are influenced by their experience of the supply chain — even in the simplest terms, it’s easy to see that a late delivery can disappoint, whereas an expedited delivery can delight,” says Callinan.

Logistics and customer service tend to experience the largest volume of customer interactions, yet most organizations have not yet worked out how to derive more value from these touch points with customers. The key to doing so is to harness “business moments” — transient opportunities that can be exploited dynamically.

Here’s a fictitious example …

Dr. Hunter is an oncologist who specializes in head and neck cancers. She’s just arrived home from a conference at which she met Jack, a sales representative from a small biotech company with a new treatment for lung cancer. After they talked at the conference, Dr. Hunter opted to receive further emails from Jack, so he scanned her badge with his smartphone.

Soon after, Dr. Hunter receives a marketing email from Jack’s company, to which she responds. She asks to chat with someone and her request is automatically routed to Diane in the customer services department. Diane answers some questions and arranges to send samples to Dr. Hunter. Before their conversation ends, the request for samples is sent to a third-party logistics provider, which will pick, pack and dispatch the samples overnight for delivery the following morning.

In addition, before the call ends, Diane’s computer prompts her to ask Dr. Hunter about the possibility of a face-to-face meeting. Dr. Hunter agrees and all the relevant information is transferred to Stacy, a member of the business development team.

Stacy reviews all the interactions between Diane and Dr. Hunter. A suggested presentation deck, based on the recent interactions, is automatically built. Stacey tweaks it, before scheduling an appointment to visit Dr. Hunter’s practice, knowing she is fully prepared for the face-to-face engagement.

This example shows how, with the right technology, the supply chain can create a seamless experience for a customer. Moreover, insights learned can lead to fresh revenue opportunities with the same customer, as business moments such as this one can be connected to adjacent opportunities.

“This coordination role for the supply chain will assume much greater importance as advanced analytics and digital supply chain capabilities become mainstream,” says Callinan. “Organizations will increasingly use technology in this way to empower their customer-facing staff, and to measure, improve and personalize many aspects of the customer experience.”

Gartner clients can read more in  "How Supply Chain Can Drive Better Customer Experiences" and “How to Justify the Business Value of Supply Chain Customer Experience Initiatives.” More information on the future of the supply chain can be found in the Gartner Theme Insight Report “How to Lead Supply Chain in the Shift to Sustainable Business.”  This collection of research will help chief supply chain officers set strategies for leading the end-to-end value network in a transition to sustainable business.

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