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How Automation Can Help Your Company Offset Supply Chain Issues

How Automation Can Help Your Company Offset Supply Chain Issues

Ongoing supply chain issues have made it increasingly challenging for many small and medium-sized businesses to feel confident. Automation may be the solution.

The sure-fire path to sustainable growth is paved with delivering customer experiences that keep pace with peoples’ evolving expectations and aspirations. Amid challenging economic times, however, achieving success today is also about ensuring your company gets the fundamentals right:

  • Your customers find products that are actually in stock.

  • The product arrives in a timely manner.

  • Everything is intact and works as expected.

As basic as these three expectations might seem, ongoing supply chain issues have made it increasingly challenging for many small and medium-sized businesses to feel confident they will be able to deliver on them.

Just last month, the federal government published the final report from the National Supply Chain Task Force, which highlighted issues that continue to affect the availability of everything from raw materials to finished goods.

Some supply chain issues are largely people-related, such as the ongoing labour shortages that have affected almost every industry. Others are more specific to policies, such as how containers in ports are regulated.

In many cases, there is little that SMBs can do on their own to act upon the kind of recommendations made in the report. Instead, they can focus on the one area they do have control over, and where they have ample opportunity to achieve success in the short-term: driving efficient growth with automation.

No matter what kind of products you’re selling or the size of your business, supply chain issues boil down to a few questions that need to be answered. These include the status of goods in transit, the availability of inventory and who within your customer base needs to have their orders fulfilled.

Recent data collected from a global survey of more than 3,500 Salesforce customers, for instance, shows how a cloud-based platform like Customer 360 combines automation with intelligence and real-time data. This has led to 91% increase in ROI from team efficiencies – a product of their ability to get critical insights 26% faster than before resulting from their use of cloud-based technology that pulls all data into a single source of truth.

Some of the more specific ways automation can help offset the impact of supply chain issues include:

Increased accuracy in demand forecasting

You never want to be sitting on a pile of products that didn’t sell, just as you don’t want to run into a stockout on your most popular items. When you’re first starting out as a business, it might be possible to guestimate the volume of products to have in your inventory, but not once you begin to scale.

Even using low-level productivity tools like spreadsheets aren’t effective for demand planning because the data in them is inherently static and needs to be updated manually. It’s often tempting to assume that whatever happened in the recent past – the last quarter or even the last year – will be true again the next time. Recent events have demonstrated, though, that changes in demand can come unexpectedly.

Automation allows companies to pore through historical sales data while also harnessing the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) to predict supply and demand trends that would be impossible for a human being on their own. Then, even if the supply chain gets jammed, you have a clear picture of the volume of products you’ll need, and can be proactive in addressing any delays or shortfalls.

Accelerating time to decision-making through enhanced collaboration

Let’s imagine a worst-case scenario: a large shipment of a popular product gets stuck somewhere in the supply chain, with no ETA on when it will arrive. That leaves many customers in a state of limbo – and the longer they’re in there, the more likely they are to move onto a competitor and to share their negative experience with others.

Companies can sometimes mitigate the impact of these kinds of challenges with special offers, like a discount or promotion. They can also made a strategic shift to offer customers similar products that are more readily available and could address the same problems or needs. In either case, determining the best course of action may require team members from disparate business functions to come together – even if only through a video call or a conversation in Slack.

Whether you’re meeting in a boardroom or from other locations, this kind of collaboration depends upon everyone being on the same page about supply chain issues and the choices to be made. That’s why Customer 360 was designed to unify data, so that team members don’t have to pull data from dozens of disconnected systems to inform their decision-making.

Building consistency and transparency into customer communications

The faster you can notify customers about the status of their orders and what they can expect, the greater the overall impact on the health of your business. It means you won’t be getting as many calls, texts or e-mail messages into your customer service department. It means your sales team won’t have to be starting their next conversation with an apology because they can automate the updates that get sent out at the first hint of trouble. It means customers will trust your marketing, because they’ll only see products advertised that are ready to be shipped.

Centralizing customer data on a single platform ensures your team will be delivering the right information at the right time. It also sets the stage for self-service experiences that allow customers to take the lead. Some examples could be a chatbot that answers customer questions 24/7, mobile apps that provide product alerts and notifications, or knowledge centres that help them solve problems on their own.

Automation benefits everyone across the supply chain – the Canadian manufacturers who are producing goods to be sold, the brands who are counting on selling products to fight off rising inflation, and customers who deserve a reliable, smooth buying experience.

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