The Saga of WISMO: Distribution Center Down

All Is Quiet on the Logistics Front

Silence.

That’s all Larry, a Logistics Manager at Sally’s Shoe Superstore, and Steve, the VP of Supply Chain, hear when they ask their teams if there’s anything left to check off on their Black Friday readiness plan. Usually, silence is beautiful for Larry and Steve. It means that all their supply chain puzzle pieces fit together in perfect alignment — there are no drastic issues at hand or fires to put out in any of their distribution centers or warehouses.

Black Friday is three days away, and while silence is an unusual luxury for Larry and Steve, it makes them more than just a little bit nervous. This year, Larry took charge of making sure that the logistics team was ready for Black Friday, and the silence makes him go through his high-level checklist again.

A Need for a Contingency Plan

Larry checks his list again and again, and after running through countless end-of-the-world scenarios in his head, he feels confident that the team is as ready as it can be for peak season. Before standing up to leave, he sees a small green creature with large, menacing eyes peeking out at him behind his computer. He looks again –  it’s gone. “Yep, it’s definitely that time of day, time to head home,” he says, and off he goes to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family.

On Monday morning, Larry heads into work. Just as he steps into his office, he gets a call from the manager of his largest distribution center in New Jersey.

“Hey Larry. So, uh — one of the pipes burst last night, and the whole place is flooded. The pallets at the top are fine, but the pipes burst on our stock of Cyber Monday door busters, so that inventory is all ruined. I can’t have anyone in the place for 24 hours at least while we clean the water out of here and get the pipe fixed… we can’t get your orders fulfilled any time before then.”  

Larry’s mind races from thoughts of turkey leftovers to his new crisis. He would have to rely solely on his distribution center in Oregon to fulfill orders on his company’s busiest day of the year. It might take carriers longer to get packages to their customers, but as long as nothing else goes wrong, only door busters will be delayed. Sally’s Shoes could get everyone’s orders in on time and ship out door busters separately. He sets his contingency plan in motion.

Holiday Delivery Plans Unravel

Larry comes in on Tuesday and sees a mass of oddly familiar spiky creatures on his desk. He calls the building exterminator and moves to a new room, but they keep following him around, clinging to him, knocking over forms, and disrupting his focus. On Wednesday, Steve walks into Larry’s office and shows him an email:


To: Diana@sallyshoes.com, larry@sallyshoes.com, carrie@sallyshoes.com
From: Sally.Henderson@Sallysshoes.com

Subject Line: ?

My neighbor ordered from the site on Black Friday. Her Estimated Delivery Date has changed 3 times, and now it says that she’s supposed to get it on Dec. 27!

Didn’t we say the promise date was going to be Dec. 4th in our campaign? This is a present for her daughter!

She’s a close friend and a Super Platinum VIP! Fix this.


Steve demands to know what went wrong — why is this package delayed, and why didn’t they know about it? Larry and Steve call the carrier and go through all of their data. After four hours of digging through spreadsheets and escalating the issue with the carrier, the carrier is positive that the issue is due to a snowstorm passing through the Chicagoland area, and the package would likely arrive before the December 27 EDD.

The carrier promises to keep an eye on the issue, and assures them that they plan to build an even bigger facility this year with more advanced technology. The carrier assures them that the package is on a truck, and it is bound for Atlanta. It would still get there between 7 days of the Estimated Delivery Date. Larry’s still confused — if it is just a snowstorm issue, why is the delivery date so late? Something just isn’t adding up. 

My team just dealt with three hundred calls with customers saying their packages are stuck in Chicago. What’s going on?

The next day, WISMOs fill Larry’s office when he walks in. Larry and Steve call the carrier again to locate the package, but it’s still stuck in Chicago. They expedite another package to the customer when the head of Customer Service, Carrie, bangs on the door. She storms in saying, “My team just dealt with three hundred calls with customers saying their packages are stuck in Chicago. What’s going on? I’m being blamed for ruining Christmas.”  

Now sitting in the middle of Steve, Carrie, and a room full of WISMOs, Larry throws his hands up and says, “You’re telling me! I just spent another three hours on the phone with our carrier facility in Chicago, and we still don’t know what happened. Christmas will be ruined if no one gets their presents on time! We need to find the answers — now.”

Unfortunately for Larry and Steve, this is still just the beginning of their network nightmares.

Shipping Issues in the Last Mile Fuel WISMO’s Antics — and Cause Fires for Larry

Although Larry is able to run through his checklist and go through his end-of-the world scenarios, issues in the final mile are still inevitable. According to our data, general delays, weather delays, and changed delivery dates account for over half (55%) of all exceptions for parcel shipments. When shipping volume increases during peak — and parcel exceptions increased by 236% during 2018’s Cyber Weekend — the number of exceptions also increases.

Once Larry’s team hands off their packages to carriers, he has little insight or control over what is going on with them on a smaller scale unless a customer raises a red flag. As a result, the burden falls on a high-profile VIP shopper, the CEO, Carrie, and over three hundred Black Friday shoppers to raise their hands before Larry can see that the problem is larger than just one missed handoff — or the many WISMOs filling his office by that point.

Thwart WISMO by Keeping Customers Apprised Along Every Step

When it comes to managing deliveries to success, tracking pages alone will not ease customer anxiety when dealing with customer issues. In fact, in our VIP shopper’s case, her incorrect and changing EDD on her tracking page is the source of her worry. In the case of delivery exceptions, it is not just about the “what” of an issue — it is also imperative to address the “how.”

Today, a huge disconnect exists here, as many retailers, including those acutely focused on customer service, do not have the tools or processes in place to meet this need, often responding reactively to inbound calls and in many cases, sending shoppers to brave a carrier’s 1-800 number.

In the case of delivery exceptions, it is not just about the “what” of an issue. It is also imperative to address the “how.”

While exceptions such as delivery delays and damages happen, there are still steps that shippers can take to ensure that the last leg of the delivery experience goes smoothly. 97% of customers expect to receive a proactive alert in the event of an exception or delay. These alerts allow customers to understand the latest delivery status, provide feedback on the experience and expedite issue resolution. By creating tracking pages and sending alerts to customers, companies can reduce WISMO calls by 75%

If a parcel shipment is taking longer in transit than usual, as is the case with the VIP shopper, it’s important to send a reassurance alert to let the customer know that the package is still on its way, or to send a personal message to tell the customer that the retailer is aware of the situation and has taken steps to fix it.

Take the Burden off of Customers Once and For All with Proactive Measures

Gaining visibility into shipments that are going off the rails allows logistics leaders, such as Larry, to identify problem shipments and stop them in their tracks before they affect his customers. When Larry sees that the VIP’s issue isn’t going to be solved through his carrier escalation, he expedites her a new one. At this point, not only is he paying more for shipping fees, the cost of the order, and holiday surcharges, but he is also potentially going to lose the customer’s loyalty.

Instead of firefighting one delivery issue after another, logistics leaders must heed the call of their shoppers and improve final mile visibility.

With the rising costs of truck rates, a great carrier mix can create a more reliable and compelling experience for customers and keep them coming back. With the knowledge that carriers can affect customer experience, clear visibility into carrier performance can give Larry a better idea about carrier mix. This data can empower his decision-making toolkit when it comes to shorter-term decisions, such as utilizing different carriers during specific times in peak season, or re-evaluating long-term contracts.

Instead of firefighting one delivery issue after another, logistics leaders must heed the call of their shoppers and improve final mile visibility. This goes beyond establishing clear lines for customer communication — it means embracing the tools and processes required to manage delivery experiences at scale.

Are issues with visibility causing WISMO to multiply?