Before I spent much time in the customer experience space, I didn’t give much thought to how interconnected different functions within a company play a role delivering exceptional customer experiences. I mean, it was obvious that marketing and customer service played a role, but I didn’t think much about how goods and services move from one place to another have an impact on whether a customer’s experience with a brand is mind-blowingly amazing or down right crappy.
COVID has definitely tested brands in many ways, and today I want to focus on the supply chain aspect of customer experience. Because when you think about the process of placing an order or picking an item up from a store, to get that item in a store or shipped to your house, there were so many handoffs that made that possible. A few examples include:
- Suppliers of the raw materials and components to make the final item
- Manufacturers of the finished product
- Transportation from one supplier to the next and from the final seller of the item to your front door
- Inventory management of products in the seller’s warehouse
- Processes to pick, pack and ship to the purchaser of the final item
The above list is a huge over simplification of a supply chain, but it illustrates that there are many handoffs and processes that can impact a good customer experience. If any one of these steps experiences delays, breaks etc., it impacts how the customer is going to view his/her experience with your brand.
With COVID we’ve seen issues where production stopped or was delayed due to shutdowns in various countries. We saw supply shortages of certain necessities (gloves, masks, disinfecting wipes and, of all things, toilet paper. I could continue on about the toilet paper hoarding we saw when COVID first hit the United States, but that is for another day and for another blog.) We saw longer times from placing an online order to getting the package delivered to a customer’s house. In some cases, this issue is still plaguing some brands.
So what happens when the supply chain starts to impact a customer’s experience? Early in COVID, it seemed that most people were pretty understanding. However, as some brands were able to pivot and modify components in their supply chain system, customers started to expect all brands they engage with to do the same. (Spoiler alert: Not all brands have been able to modify their supply chain to return to pre-COVID efficiency.)
What can a brand do if it can’t modify its supply chain or can’t do it quickly enough? How can it even attempt to reconcile the experience with its customers? Below are a few suggestions.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Brands have to be open on where the struggles are in getting products and services to customers. Brands have to be proactive and communicate frequently on the status of getting a product/service into the hands of the customer. Nothing is more frustrating as a customer than placing an order and seeing that your order still hasn’t been filled almost two weeks after the order was placed. So, communicate why this is happening.
- Identify the breakage points in your supply chain and fix the pieces that will have the highest impact to the supply chain, with the lowest effort and cost. Where are the highest risk components in your supply chain? Can you create redundancies (where it makes sense)? Do you need to upgrade your inventory management software? Do you need to temporarily remove product from your shelves/site until you have inventory again?
- If you can, provide a peace offering. When the supply chain significantly impacts a customer’s experience, offer a sincere apology and a discount or free shipping on their next purchase. The customer entrusted their hard earned dollars to you, and you didn’t deliver. Say, “I am sorry. We messed up. We value you as our customer and want to make it right the next time you’re in need of x, y, z product/service. That’s why we want to give you (insert offer here) with your next purchase.” (Disclaimer: The copy above should NOT be used verbatim. Please have a copywriter put something together that sounds like your brand.)
While the above suggestions won’t rectify every bad customer experience, it is imperative that you make a conscious effort to repair the damage done to the customer relationship.