Amazon.com recently announced a $1-billion investment in new logistics and supply chain management technology, kicking off a venture that will help the retail giant stay on top of innovations that improve the customer and employee experience.
Logistics technology can be key to achieving customer success. But before choosing it, you need to precisely define your customer groups.
Every business serves multiple kinds of customers. In the logistics brokerage sector, there are at least three distinct “customer” groups that should be considered when thinking about a logistics technology upgrade: shippers who purchase third-party logistics services, carriers who serve as partners by moving goods, and the internal workforce, which is often overlooked.
Think about your options through the relevant customer lenses. Will the planned deployment make life easier for all groups? Are there second-order success factors and customer-adjacent groups to consider? Following are some tips to keep in mind when considering a logistics technology upgrade.
Be what your customers need you to be. When you’re looking at upgrade possibilities and their implications for internal efficiency, it’s easy to lose track of a simple principle: Your project should always let you serve customers the way they want to be served. Otherwise your upgrade could have unintended consequences.
An example is the use of QR codes in restaurants, some of which have integrated them in a way that saves labor but doesn’t degrade customer service. Others have done so in a manner that alienates customers by removing options they valued.
Customer dissatisfaction is a signal that the tradeoff isn’t worth it. Keep in mind that you want to be what your customers need you to be. Has a customer group already expressed a preference for a process or invested heavily in a technology? Consider that when designing your project.
Carriers that work with logistics brokers, for example, have already invested in tracking technology, so building a solution that asks them to disregard that investment and use your tracking solution instead doesn’t make sense. Creating one that integrates their existing tracking technology is a better approach. By offering a broad array of integrations (such as electronic data interchange and application programming interfaces), you make your offering more versatile and attractive to customers.
Keep in mind that the technology you believe will benefit customers the most isn’t necessarily the solution they want from you. One time, my team considered developing an advanced app for drivers — we thought it would benefit carriers by helping their drivers to operate more efficiently. But the carriers we work with told us it was more important to focus on improving operations for their dispatchers and back-office personnel at that time. And they were right.
When your customers succeed, their customers succeed too. Another factor to keep in mind when considering customer-focused technology projects is that change takes time. We’ve all seen innovative technology come on the scene and fail to catch fire. Some new solutions are simply ahead of their time, and don’t achieve widespread acceptance right away. Some never do. That’s why it’s so important to listen to customers and understand how they deliver value to their customers.
One indispensable asset in technology roadmap development is a customer advisory panel. It can help you stay on the right track and provide opportunities to correct course if you go astray. Once you’ve identified relevant customer groups, make sure you set up groups to amplify their voices, and meet at least quarterly. Let them know you value their insight and take their recommendations seriously.
Customer advisory groups are also a great asset for beta-testing products that are in the later stages of development. They can help set technology project priorities, give you advance notice of emerging trends in the industry, and help your technology team improve new products before release. It’s impossible to overstate how important customer advisory groups are for success.
When implementing customer-focused logistics technology, keep your focus where it belongs, and don’t get distracted. Identify your customers precisely, solicit their feedback and create technology solutions that drive their success.
Michael Senftleber is chief technology officer at Arrive Logistics.
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