Welcome to the customer facing supply chain

In the quest for competitive differentiation, we are beginning to see more and companies highlighting the merits of their supply chain. While this tactic may not be ground-breaking in itself, the difference we’re now experiencing is that companies are exposing their supply chains directly to their customers, with capabilities that are intended to benefit the customer as opposed to just themselves.

 
In fact, making the supply chain and supply chain technology truly customer facing – ie. part of the ‘front office’ – can not only help an organisation make their selling proposition more compelling and sticky but can also prove mutually beneficial, unlocking value for both the customer and retailer.
 
For example, the conventional thinking for delivery windows has been ‘the wider, the better’ in terms of delivery operations productivity. However, this is often a false economy. With such a large window there is a high likelihood that the customer won’t be home at some point, and as Murphy’s Law would predict, that would happen to be when your delivery driver arrives, resulting in a failed delivery. In contrast a tighter time window provides more certainty to the customer and allows them to better manage their day.
 
Customer facing apps and mobile technology can further enhance the online retail experience, providing shoppers with delivery appointment booking and real-time delivery tracking. Instead of the all-day delivery window of the past, those innovative organisations who have made the switch to a customer facing supply chain are offering customers a 3-hour delivery slot when they place their order. Once the orders reach the last mile of the supply chain the delivery slot narrows to 30 minutes and the customer is notified of the tighter time window.
 
Making your supply chain part of the ‘front office’ has a clear capability to unlock value for both customer and company, but such a move requires operational excellence; without the right data and the right technology in place it simply isn’t achievable. The best people and process alone will not get the job done when there is a need to share actionable information with customers. It’s therefore amazing to see how many supply chains still try to operate in real-time, but their systems cannot.
 
The technology measuring stick is very simple. If a business’ supply chain system is still living in a ‘batch’ world and doesn’t include real-time GPS updates, then the customer facing supply chain may well remain a vision rather than a reality. Chris Jones, Executive VP Marketing & Services at Descartes Systems Group