Why a Customer-Centric approach defined the Freight and Transport Industry 2016 and what this means for the smaller industry players going forward

The last mile delivery challenge, with which we’re all so familiar, has evolved to become as important an operational or transactional function as it is a brand challenge. Retailers are recognising that while the customer experience starts on our keyboards, it’s the experience of your brand beyond the order confirmation page, continuing right up until the doorbell sounds and a flutter of possession and excitement is felt, to the second when, finally, that parcel is physically placed in the palms of their hands - that matters.

2016 saw an increased focus on the consumer, a trend consistent with a market that continues to respond to the new breed of shopper. Freight handlers are needing to understand the intricacies of the customer journey and be clear on the role they’re playing in creating that experience, be it positive or negative. Unpacking this issue (excuse the pun) faced by the Australian freight industry at large, means building an understanding of what the demands along the journey look like, and how retail and delivery partners can work together to successfully manage these expectations.

Pertinent to this logistics dilemma is recognising that customers want visibility of their purchased items. This means they are demanding real-time updates of the location of their goods within the delivery journey, from the time of despatch. As customers, we want one place to do that. We don’t have the time or interest in navigating through multiple transport provider websites, which is typical when a retailer uses different companies determined by a customer’s order size and delivery time.

Building in a level of customer control effectively aligns a retailer or supplier’s brand with high quality service delivery. The tactic of pushing real-time updates to customers’ mobile devices becomes a part of the customer’s journey that is both useful and relevant. This is a simple yet highly effective way to add value to your customer’s brand experience. Your customers believe you care – because you’ve shown them you do. Brand loyalty is born.

Of course, underpinning this equation is the need for transport companies to embrace the digital disruption that is having a high- voltage impact on logistics management. Digital disruption is prompting, if not demanding, that the smaller-tier players invest in electronic tracking capability. The high-volume global tier 1 & 2 transport companies have set the bar high, but they are fortunate to have the budgets to play with. The challenges for the smaller operators are the prohibitive costs of implementing label scanning, hardware acquisition, and the ongoing costs of licence fees. They are left with the meagre offering of a duplicate consignment note to the customer, and off they go into the supply chain black hole. With no tracking events available, the small operator’s customers are left to hold their breath, cross their fingers and pray that the goods will make it to the customer.

The reality is stark, yet within reach. If the smaller players want to build their competitive position they must part with tradition and offer their customers a real-time tracking capability.

Technologies such as SmartFreight Tracker track each shipment via a web portal or phone app, regardless of transport provider used. It allows customer service teams and customers to see the location of a shipment from start/creation to delivery. A company branded email is sent to the customer containing a hyperlink to a branded web portal where they can check the progress of their shipment on a computer, tablet or smartphone.

This is a system that addresses operational challenges the industry faces and is sympathetic to customer expectations. It has been designed for small transport providers to capture shipment tracking events. Using an app, the real-time picture and status of a shipment can be captured, and drivers use their smartphone to scan labels at every stage of the journey.

Like customers, online retailers also want more control of the last mile. Instead of abdicating the responsibility to a transport company, they want to control the customer service as best they can. Online retailers need to be able to send their customer an email notification on goods dispatch and provide updated information of its progress. They need a single tracking web portal that hosts all transport partners and tracking events to be visible on one branded page, regardless of transport provider, for customers’ navigation.

The benefits of implementing software that can empower the consumer, and introducing platforms that enable the retailer to manage the consumer relationship whilst assisting the retailer-shipper relationship, is without question invaluable. The strength of your brand marketing is anchored in understanding your value proposition and how this trickles down through the supply chain. The businesses that can demonstrate this at scale will have a greater chance of survival.

Of course, the competition also lies with the powerhouse online retailers such as Amazon who are blurring the lines between retailers and logistics companies. Consumers are not shy to choose companies who offer digital and rapid response customer support options. Indeed, the initiatives of the global players are hard to compete with, but what this should prompt from the smaller operators is a motivation to research industry innovation, uncover insights, and action opportunities to forge strategic and collaborative partnerships between retail and logistics to ensure their survival.

Work strategically, listen to your customers, reject the status quo. Disrupt, integrate, communicate – and most importantly - long live the customer!

Kerry Holmes is the managing director of SmartFreight Australia and New Zealand.

Posted on: 30/01/2017