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Is Your Company Getting Hit by the Supply Chain Crisis? Try These Tactics

Even though there’s no one company or person that can clear jam-packed ports, companies do have the power to make things better. It starts with transparency and proactive service.

Customers don’t care what happens behind the scenes. They just expect their products to be available or delivered. [Getty Images/Luis Alvarez]

What’s next for companies that are grappling with empty warehouses, bare shelves, and unhappy customers? Facing the truth: Even though there’s no one company or person that can clear jam-packed ports, companies do have the power to make things better. 

Customers don’t care what happens behind the scenes. They just expect their products to be available or delivered. But transparency and proactive service can go a long way.

Here are a few ways you can use both to help ease the impact of the supply-chain crisis on your customers.

Relationships are your No. 1 priority

Low inventory, delayed shipments, and higher prices are making it hard for companies to deliver an excellent end-to-end customer experience. But for those companies that embrace proactive, transparent service, customers will feel at least connected to the process, mitigating disappointing news while opening up new opportunities for engagement.

With businesses more likely than consumers to say the experience a company provides is more important than its products or services, communicating timely and relevant data is crucial.

Retailers, for their part, are using digital communication such as online chat in dramatically larger numbers than ever before in order to mitigate unavoidably choppy customer experiences. During the pandemic’s lockdowns, their digital channels saw double-digit adoption gains, according to Salesforce’s State of Service report.

Service professionals noticed the change, too: The same survey found that 87% reported an uptick in the number of customers reaching out over app or online chat.

And the reality is, this type of communication has been around since long before the supply-chain crisis. Popular apps like Uber Eats have implemented radical transparency in their experiences for years now. Delivery tracking updates communicate the status of each order and include a visualization of the delivery to the customer’s door.

This proactive communication sets expectations and eases user frustration over longer wait times. 

What proactive service looks like

Why should consumer goods companies take a page from the retailer’s or delivery app playbooks? Consider this scenario: You’re a retailer that’s placed a large order for coffeemakers.

A few days before the scheduled delivery, you get a text from the distributor. The bad news is the shipment is delayed. The good news is the distributor gave you a new guaranteed delivery date, which you share with your customers.

Is this a perfect experience? No. But at least your customers don’t have to sit around wondering where their coffee makers are.

Now compare that less-than-ideal situation to an even worse customer experience: Instead of getting the heads-up about the delay, the coffeemakers never arrive. Days go by with no word from your distributor. One by one, your customers cancel their orders.

You can’t afford to delay digital transformation

The problem is that many B2B companies employ a stale model. Before the pandemic, face-to face collaboration was the norm. That’s why the sudden shift to remote work, e-commerce, and digital-first touch points accelerated the digitization of many legacy processes.

Given the ongoing supply chain issues, businesses should consider disruption to be the new norm. Digitizing legacy systems and processes won’t work in this digital-first world. New processes, checkpoints, and touchpoints should shape next-generation digital investments.

For example, when your customers know your products will be delivered late, you’ll give them more time to adjust their plans. That builds trust because it reinforces your reputation as a good partner.

Second, skyrocketing shipping prices mean you probably paid more for the goods sitting on your shelves. Giving partners transparent access to your inventory portal increases the chances you’ll offload those products (and their related liabilities) first.

With trust emerging as a critical business pillar, digital transformation must now include visibility and engagement systems to build the customer relationships that are key to your growth in the years ahead.

Data transparency enables agility and a better customer experience

It helps to share data openly across different departments of a company – otherwise known as connecting data silos. Why? Data transparency shines a light on hidden back-office data like inventory. 

Here’s how: Suppliers can communicate in-stock components for manufacturers in real time.

Manufacturers can view available inventory and make faster decisions about what they should build next. And when manufacturers carry on the same transparency for consumer goods companies and retailers, they can partner to make smarter decisions about where they should hold and distribute goods.

Let’s go back to our coffeemaker example to see this in action.

Imagine that when the manufacturer notified the retailer about the delay in their coffeemaker order, they also shared details about a similar model available for immediate delivery. They even offered a rebate to enhance the deal.

Given the choice between empty shelves and a relevant alternative, it’s likely that the retailer would embrace the new opportunity. Earning customer satisfaction is the key, after all.

It also gives the customer a sense of control, which is important in this would-be vulnerable moment. Getting accurate information to the right audience at the right time is a clear win-win.

A customer relationship management platform connects the supplier data with with in-stock inventory, customer profiles, and delivery partners. That enables companies to set expectations and manage the customer experience.

Transparency is always the winning strategy

Studies show that proactive digital communications increase trust and foster customer loyalty. Psychologically, it also communicates care, builds brand credibility, personalizes engagement, and reduces customer frustration.

But how do you get data out of your enterprise resource system and into the right audience’s hands? By linking inventory, sales, service, and customers with modern communication tools.

With data transparency and proactive communication, your customers will stay loyal. Even when you’re still waiting for your ship to come in.

An earlier version of this blog appeared in Manufacturing Business Technology.

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