Amazon.com has spoiled us all in terms of delivery expectations. Consistency, communication and reconciliation are all things it does well, and consumers have come to expect this trifecta during every delivery experience, no matter where they order from.
The last-mile delivery carrier becomes an extension of your brand, providing a critical portion of the customer experience. To meet expectations requires a set of capabilities — must-haves for last-mile delivery — that not every carrier can meet.
We’re living through a period of disruption, with exponential growth in e-commerce, labor market uncertainty, and a potential recession, all of which combine to create unpredictability. Sometimes it seems like peak season runs 12 months a year now — or at least planning for it does.
The challenge for carriers becomes reaction time, and that’s a function of flexibility. There are some basic characteristics that enable flexibility for last-mile carriers:
Flexibility enables speed — the kind that allows a carrier to adapt to new demand on the fly, and stand up new business in days instead of weeks or months. It also allows carriers to handle peak-season capacity without putting limitations on customer volume. They can provide a stable, efficient and predictable level of service when the business is anything but predictable.
Any sufficiently advanced technology initially looks a like magic (or science fiction). So while the media is abuzz with stories about autonomous vehicles delivering cheeseburgers and lattes on college campuses, the truth about delivery technology is a little less captivating. On the surface, there’s nothing that appears more low-tech than a human jumping out of a transit van or a Honda Civic and running to your front door to drop off a package. However, the technology enabling and optimizing that delivery can be a huge differentiator among delivery carriers.
Look for a last mile carrier with purpose-built technology — a configurable end-to-end software stack specifically designed to manage every step from connecting with your initial order through driver routing, dealing with exceptions and returned packages. Integration with your order-management systems should also be quick and relatively painless.
The best last-mile carriers are technology companies, pushing the boundaries of data modeling, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence capabilities to do things like:
When selecting a carrier, pay special attention to their tech stack. Is it off-the-shelf or proprietary? Does it consist of many disparate pieces seemingly held together with duct tape and string, or is it purpose-built and seamless from end to end? How does it draw on technologies like predictive analytics and artificial intelligence? How does your carrier’s technology support the flexibility you need to deliver an Amazon-like experience to your customers?
The most important thing to your end customer is to know where their package is, when it will be delivered, and where it was left. Providing this level of tracking through an app or SMS-enabled real-time messaging is the entry point for carrier communication. It not only satisfies the customer, but provides a kind of insurance for drivers as well.
Taking it a step further, customers and drivers can communicate directly in real time to reduce or resolve delivery exceptions. Giving customer service reps visibility to exceptions in real-time can reduce returns. Again, it’s a matter of having the right technology and integrations in place to move messages back and forth between shipper, carrier and customer.
As a shipper, you expect the correct box to get to the right door at the right time every time. A carrier with the flexibility to dynamically scale capacity, the technology to dynamically route packages and manage exceptions, and the ability to communicate clearly with the shipper and end customer, is best equipped to deliver on that expectation.
Adam Bryant is chief executive officer of AxleHire.
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