Last Mile Customer Experience Starts with Real-Time Visibility

Last week, tens of millions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday ecommerce orders were shipped, creating excitement, anticipation and in some cases even agitation for millions of consumers. Brand and retailer supply chain leaders are in the throes of fulfilling orders, handling exceptions and doing their best to keep up with the annual, record-breaking online sales volumes that are the backhanded gift of the holiday shopping season.

But, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Supply chain leaders’ ability to understand what is happening with their in-transit orders is greatly limited by a lack of accurate data. For that reason, we are so pleased that Gartner is helping to illuminate this challenge and bring supply chain visibility to the forefront with their inaugural Market Guide for Real-Time Transportation Visibility Providers,” in which Convey is included as a Representative Vendor.

According to Gartner, “For many years, transportation has struggled with a lack of proper supply chain visibility … consumers continue to have increasing demands around real-time visibility to their orders and shipments. This is driven by the Amazon effect.” We couldn’t agree more.

Visibility is crucial to meet customer demands and should be on every Chief Supply Chain Officer’s mind.

But supply chain visibility is not created equal. And visibility alone is not enough.

Supply Chain Visibility is Not Created Equal

What does visibility mean in the case of transportation? Gartner’s Market Guide does a good job of breaking down the various modes, geographies and even data ingestion mechanisms available. But their guide is geared at the broadest universe of companies who seek visibility across all scenarios — from raw materials bound for the factory, to full truckload across the country, and finally to the customer’s last mile. This results in wide variations in visibility capability and type.

To be truly relevant to the retail use case, we recommend drilling into a few specifics that are most critical to meet consumer needs:

  • Leg – First or Middle or Last Mile:

    While retailers need to understand how inbound items progress through their supply chain, the systems, data types, and flows vary drastically from that of their outbound supply chain and final mile. First-mile visibility vendors who report at a pallet, or even container level, rarely report information that is crucial to the last mile, and often miss information that an Order Management System or a Customer Care System can provide. If you are trying to improve last mile customer experience, tracking real-time scan data at a package level and integrating that information back with customer specific systems is key.  Not all vendors provide these capabilities.

  • Mode – Parcel or Freight:

    Brands that ship primarily parcel have a much simpler carrier mix and much higher volumes than brands that ship mostly freight, where complexity of network design is growing. Understand what types of relationships your visibility provider has to each of the different types of carriers whose data you seek to aggregate.

  • Sector – B2B or B2C:

    The types of data and insights that a real-time visibility solution can provide will vary based on the types of customers it serves. Consumer use cases typically deal with high transaction volumes and are tied to very discrete orders, going to millions of destinations across a large array of carriers. Business use cases may involve lower transaction count and aggregate orders at an account level or other hierarchy that implies a need to expose different attributes. Check with your vendor to understand if the clients and use cases they support are consistent with your retail or direct-to-consumer business needs.

  • Data – Volume, Quality and Depth:

    Visibility providers claim connectivity to a vast range of carriers — from sub-100 to the thousands. Don’t take a vendor’s number of connections at face value. Ingesting bare minimum data by the thousands is drastically different than ingesting, cleansing, normalizing and enhancing data from carriers by the hundreds. Some data is scraped, some data is gathered via API connections. The insights and resultant decision making that you seek through visibility providers hangs on the quality of the data they provide. Dig deep to understand the differences between players and whether the quality they can provide is robust enough to power use cases and automation you want to implement.

Not all visibility solutions are created equal. Understanding how vendors map to your use cases will help you sort through the broad mix of solutions. That said, as mentioned before – visibility is just the first step.

Visibility is Not Enough

I personally ordered about 20 items from 6 different retailers and brands on Cyber Monday. I’ve gotten a slew of emails and opted into a few alerts. It’s been a week, and I still don’t know yet if some of the orders will make it on time. I’m also unsure if anyone at those retailers knows either.  Most of the alerts provided scant information – in many cases pointing me to FedEx or UPS sites to learn when they’d be shipping. In one case, I wanted to change the shipping location to a family member, and I couldn’t do so without calling – our research suggests that 53.2% of consumers expect to be able to make self-service address changes. Any consumer would find all this uncertainty and inability to make changes to be quite unsatisfying.

Like anything you measure and track, if an anomaly or issue occurs – you need to act.

On the brand side, if something should go amiss, simply having visibility is only the first step in the process to rectify an issue and ensure client satisfaction. Like anything you measure and track, if an anomaly or issue occurs – you need to act. In the case of shipping and order, supply chain and customer care teams need to find a way to balance high transportation costs with the rising need for customer experience. To do so, you need to use the data gained through your visibility investments to identify and resolve systemic issues, empower customer self-service and collaborate with carriers and customers alike to resolve shipping issues in a timely and satisfactory fashion. Grove Collaborative used visibility and collaboration tools to increase NPS by 9.4% with a 77% decrease in issue response time, all while saving $64 per damage claim and $23 per incorrect address. 

Today’s retail consumers need more insight than simply “the carrier has it” — especially during peak season.

As supply chain leaders begin to embrace visibility vendors and capabilities, you should think through the next steps and identify how you want to use that data and what actions you want to facilitate or perhaps even automate. Visibility data has the potential to dramatically drive down cost to serve while increasing customer satisfaction and retention.

Visibility is a critical foundation for anyone working in the supply chain. Gartner perfectly timed the release of this guide because real-time transportation visibility is a huge gap for many companies today – especially in the final mile to the consumer. However, today’s retail consumers need more insight than simply “the carrier has it” — especially during peak season. Through our Delivery Experience Management platform, the team at Convey is committed to helping shippers and carriers rapidly improve the entire delivery experience. This includes visibility across modes, branded and automated customer experiences, and collaboration tools to help quickly resolve issues with various supply chain partners.

Gartner Disclaimer

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

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About the Author

Kirsten Newbold-Knipp

As Convey’s Chief Growth Officer, Kirsten focuses on marketing strategy and emboldening her team to drive results. Passionate about building successful teams from the ground-up, she has worked at companies ranging from the Ritz Carlton and Intel to Hubspot and Gartner. Kirsten is an animal lover, a wine enthusiast, and a polyglot. In her spare time, she volunteers as a Marketing Advisor to Austin Pets Alive, mentors students at MIT Sloan, and co-owns two companies. Kirsten Newbold-Knipp on LinkedIn