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Improving Customer Service with Supply Chain Management

When consumers think about customer service, most people think it’s just the person they call when they have an issue with their product or service. But really customer service is the ability to provide a positive experience with the brand. In today’s retail environment, customers have extremely high expectations for accessibility to products. Without strong supply chain processes in place, including shipping, returns management, and inventory management, consumers are likely to be disappointed.

I want what I want, where I want

Whether the consumer is grocery shopping or shopping for clothes, no one is happy when a product is out of stock. Now with managing in-store and eCommerce inventory, brands face additional levels of complexity ensuring they have the right levels of inventory accessible in the right channels.

To mitigate this challenge, brands should consolidate their systems and processes to allow for a single view of all inventory for all locations. If brands manage inventory for eCommerce and in-store separately, there is a greater risk of inappropriate levels of inventory available for each channel.

And I want it now

The days where a product shipment could take 5-7 business days are now a thing of the past. Even if that is the commitment of brand, consumers are conditioned to expect their product to arrive on their doorstep in 2 days or 3 at most. Amazon recently announced they are gearing up to raise the bar even higher and provide one-day shipping for prime items. If the brand owner cannot meet the consumer’s expectations, consumers are likely to find another source from whom they can procure the item.

As a consumer, this is great. But as a brand owner, this can be a difficult and expensive need to meet. The brand has a few options when looking to meet consumer demand for expedient delivery without breaking the bank.

  1. Work with the 3PL provider and negotiate rate for expedited shipping.
  2. Change your packaging – instead of using a box, use a shipper envelop to reduce the weight of the item.
  3. Enable omnichannel fulfillment – instead of shipping from a distribution across the country, direct the customer to the closest brick-and-mortar store with the product on hand.

Well I got what I wanted, when I wanted but now I don’t want it

It’s inevitable that product will be returned. In fact, it’s estimated that 30% of all online purchases are returned.

In a strictly eCommerce model, all returns will be managed via the reverse logistics processes that are in place. Brands could consider enlisting the help of a 3PL to help manage the reverse logistics processes rather than managing it themselves.

But in an eCommerce and brick-and-mortar scenario, in most cases, consumers are likely going to return a product purchased online in stores. In this scenario, the product has now unexpectedly entered the store’s inventory to be managed. Without a robust inventory management system that integrates across the supply chain, retailers will see process inefficiencies.

Without evolving your supply chain processes to meet today’s consumers demands, consumers will be dialing up the customer service representative or worse heading to social media to complain. Where supply chain may have been far from the consumer before, it’s now an arm of customer service that can’t be ignored.

Contributions from Megan Weldon

Tags: Network Design and Inventory Optimization, Product Lifecycle Management