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Across a wide number of industries, the way companies interact with customers has changed dramatically. There is no shortage of claims that we have now entered the age of the customer. A golden age, where customer desires dictate the actions of companies. Through the hype, there is a lot of truth to these pronouncements. Companies are now, more than ever, responsive to the needs of customers. This new-found appreciation for what customers experience in logistics is leading companies to compete for market share through a variety of novel methods.

Thus far, the logistics industry lags behind this trend but appears poised to catch up in coming years.

Customer experience is a challenging and diverse confluence of disciplines. It all begins with understanding what customers need and what they could find value from that hasn’t occurred to them yet.

Logistics providers can no longer afford to ignore these requirements. For years, good and bad players were determined by their operational excellence. Today, however, transportation quality essentially amounts to table stakes, with serviced levels converging to accepted norms. For players in this space, who often lack other differentiating factors, customer experience offers a new foundation for their value proposition.

Mapping Touchpoints

The more touch points that customers experience, the more complex it is to create a positive user experience. This dynamic presents something of a challenge for the logistics industry, where shippers experience dozens of touchpoints from sales, customer service, claims, weights and research, and accounts receivable.

Each one of these interactions has the power to create loyal customers or to drive them away.

To make things more challenging, many of these interactions are in already stressed circumstances such as in the event of a freight claim. Because of this, carriers and logistics companies are particularly vulnerable to breakdowns in customer experience in logistics; however, they also stand to benefit tremendously by making it a defining aspect of their business.

The challenge for logistics executives is understanding how customers interact with each of these different teams and what can be done to make it value added for them.

Events like claims and reclassifications are hard pills to swallow, but they’re a fact of shipping. Educating shippers, so they’re prepared to navigate these complexities gives carriers an opportunity to help customers feel less vulnerable them.     

Technology Connects Everything

As mentioned above, a big part of the challenge for those in the logistics industry is the broad range of touchpoints that customers will experience.

For many organizations, this diversity means lots of different systems that are built to accommodate different tasks. These can include: customer relationship management (CRM), transportation management (TMS), and self-service web platforms to name just a few.

Each of these different platforms captures part of the story, but for many organizations, they don’t share information back and forth, nor do they contribute data to a central place where it can be accessed.

A central component of building a great customer experience in logistics is ensuring that individual interactions are informed as much as possible by all the data available. For example, a shipper’s third claim in a month may well necessitate a different response than a new shipper’s first experience with the process.

Accomplishing this requires, first, giving as much access to information as possible to front line employees. This access empowers them to solve problems and to color their interactions with the broader context so they can address root causes.

The next step beyond access is reformulating this deluge of information to help give sales and customer service reps access to the most vital information without overloading them. Time spent sifting through information matters when customers are on hold.

The form this takes will vary for every organization, but it can mean custom dashboards or out of the box SaaS solutions or anything in between. The goal is to make the most vital information easily accessible and highlight underlying issues that may lead to additional problems later.

In addition to the human interface, these technological platforms provide the primary means of capturing and sharing data across the organization from collaborating across teams to generating leads from a website and passing them to the sales team.

Let Data Guide the Way For Customer Experience in Logistics

Piecing through the multifaceted maze of shipper interactions with carriers is a daunting task. Thankfully, supply chains have produced petabytes of historical data that can shed light on the experience of customers and point the direction that improvements should follow.

The real challenge here isn’t a paucity of data, but that the existing data is siloed in different places across the organization. Tying these sources together and structuring them in ways that are usable is the first challenge in understanding your customer journey.

All this data on who customers are, and what their experience is moving freight through your channels, gives logistics companies a fantastic starting point in redesigning the client’s experience. Data shortens the learning curve by making changes more than a guessing game.

Taking a disciplined approach to moving the customer experience in logistics forward means pursuing a cycle of reviewing the data, making changes, testing those changes and reviewing the experimental results to see what worked and what didn’t. Over time, this creates a virtuous cycle that can yield dramatic improvements to the way carriers interact with shippers.

While big data and technology are beginning to attract attention by leaders in the logistics industry, there is one more piece of the puzzle that must be in place for a great customer experience to succeed.

A Customer First Culture

Company culture is a foundational component of the customer experience. It’s the piece that everything else is built upon, and without it, there’s no chance of getting it right.

Culture means a lot of things to different people, from company barbecues to the way customer service representatives answer the phone.

Culture is everything

The reason culture is such a nebulous concept is because the way employees interact with one another has a major impact on shippers, just as direct interactions do. In an industry with as complicated a customer journey as transportation, a cohesive team has substantial ramifications on the ability to work closely to resolve customer issues.

There are other, far more comprehensive, resources on developing winning culture. Suffice it to say, without paying attention to the contributions culture makes to customer experience, all other efforts will fall flat.

Technology, data and company culture are the three central pillars that support the customer experience in logistics. Technology enables it, data guides it, and culture humanizes it. Without paying attention to all three of these components, producing a winning customer experience in logistics is a lost cause. For those in the logistics industry, however, it’s a cause that needs to be won. With ongoing pressure on capacity and convergence of service levels, those who seek to compete are left with nothing but a better rate (and a thinner margin) unless they can develop a meaningful customer experience.