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Milan, Rome and other major Italian cities pose huge logistical obstacles to deliverers of product ordered online.
For those unfamiliar with the traffic and bustle of Rome, navigating its tortuous streets by automobile can be a nightmare. And running a “last-mile” delivery service in that crowded city is even more challenging.
It’s a challenge that Milkman, a two-year-old provider of last-mile service, was eager to take on. Today, the company successfully deploys a fleet of vans not just in Rome, but in five other busy Italian cities as well.
Milkman launched in the spring of 2016 with service in Milan, Italy’s largest city in terms of digital commerce, according to chief executive officer Antonio Perini. Soon after, it added Rome. A deal with the number-one grocery retailer in Italy led to expansion in four additional locations: Padua, Bologna, Reggio Emilia and Modena.
Today, Milkman makes approximately 2,000 deliveries in those six Italian cities each day. It’s active in groceries as well as parcels and non-food items generated by online orders. The company allows customers to choose the day, hour and location at which they want to receive deliveries, offering same-day, evening and weekend service.
From the start, Milkman knew it couldn’t succeed without a viable routing application. And the choice wasn’t a difficult one. Perini had previously served as a product manager with WorkWave, a provider of routing and service technology to field-service and other fleet-based businesses.
Returning to Italy to start his new venture, Perini immediately called on WorkWave. “It was a pretty obvious choice, to start building my own [technology] around what I knew was the best,” he says.
WorkWave already had some customers in Italy, although its main user base was in the U.S., says senior product manager Riccardo Bocci. He acknowledges that the geography and road networks of certain major Italian cities “are extremely challenging. So it was important to us to already have a validated proof of concept there, to guarantee to Milkman that we were the right tool.”
Perini says Rome presented a particular obstacle not just because of congestion — Milan has plenty of that — but also due to a high degree of unpredictability of traffic patterns. A given road might be fast one day, and completely blocked the next.
With the help of WorkWave, Milkman is able to plan in the face of such uncertainties, and gain a solid understanding of traffic in all of the cities that it serves. Real-world events add to the database and allow the app to become even more accurate in predicting drive times. The tool constantly compares what was planned with how that plan was executed.
The result is satisfied customers. “That’s why we’re by far the most loved service provider of home delivery,” says Perini. “The reason is that we’re transparent, and provide reliable times.”
Bocci says WorkWave doesn’t seek to substitute for Milkman’s native knowledge of geographies and territories. Instead, its proprietary algorithms and tracking capability provide a means of automating and supplementing that intelligence, improving human planners’ decision-making process.
In adapting the app for use by Milkman, WorkWave had to balance the need for deep functionality with an emphasis on ease of use, Bocci says. Using GPS technology, the app polls the position of drivers every 20 seconds. The information is then used to update arrival times for all of a driver’s remaining stops. Milkman considers the ability to keep customers informed of delivery status a key element in retaining business.
Based in the cloud, WorkWave’s Route Manager allows the company to build route plans based on consignees’ desired times of receipt. They can specify their preferences either during the checkout process at an e-commerce site, or on Milkman’s own tracking page. In the end, the company is able to provide delivery times that are accurate to within a matter of minutes.
Perini says Route Manager “works hard behind the scenes to plan routes, leverage real-time GPS positioning to trigger alerts, provide continuous communication on driver ETA, and present the option to reschedule if the delivery time is no longer convenient.” Customers are allowed to cancel or change their delivery schedule at no additional cost.
WorkWave Route Manager “has enabled our business to provide white-glove service, save time and money, and keep up with changing customer demands,” Perini adds.
A Near-Perfect Record
The tool has helped Milkman to achieve a 98-percent on-time arrival rate. At the same time, it has led to a reduction in customer-service calls, requests for rescheduling, and issues arising from inaccurate or changed addresses.
More than two years’ experience of serving major Italian cities has yielded some valuable lessons. “First of all,” Perini says, “being a service provider means dealing with humans.” Milkman is constantly interacting with consumers, drivers, merchants and logistics providers. For all its bells and whistles, the technology has to support that basic dynamic.
There’s always the temptation to be dazzled by the latest app. “Being a technology-enabled service provider, we must be very careful about what technology we build or buy,” says Perini. Milkman’s priority is providing a “white-glove” service, while relying on WorkWave to supply the underlying development platform for any additional functionality.
Bocci says the last two years have been “very interesting,” allowing WorkWave to validate its general approach while giving it a deeper understanding of Milkman’s unique needs.
The customer’s focus on innovation — deploying technology “at the bleeding edge” — has also helped WorkWave to gain a sense of how its platform might further evolve. At the same time, it’s been able to extend to other customers some of the functionality that it developed for WorkWave, such as GPS tracking.
Milkman has ambitious plans for growth. It plans to launch in 12 additional cities over the next 12 to 24 months. It also expects big increases in volumes in the cities already being served. Perini says the company will be looking to WorkWave to help it maintain a high level of service to customers at the lowest possible cost.
Through the sharing of timely information, based on data gleaned in real time, Milkman hopes to “make the customer part of the supply chain,” Perini says.
For its part, WorkWave plans to continue enhancing its algorithm to handle larger delivery volumes, without compromising the customer experience. Says Bocci: “We need to keep up to speed.”
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