Posted by Guru Rao

We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about innovative delivery management tactics and the various ways to maximize the value of your existing supply chain infrastructure. And while that’s vital to the success of your business, it’s also worth going back to basics every now and then, specifically by focusing on what it means to deliver a strong customer experience.

Thanks to Amazon, Walmart and other big names in retail, the common misconception is that last-mile delivery is all about haste – free two-day shipping, same-day shipping, two-hour shipping, etc. (even Target aims to roll out same-day delivery in most stores before 2018’s end). And yes, speed is great; but it’s hardly the most important characteristic of a strong last-mile customer experience.

Customers’ perception of the experience is everything

Facilitate the perception of a strong overall experience, even if you’re not the fastest or the cheapest.

Consider this: 64 percent of consumers and 80 percent of business customers expect real-time interactions from any company providing a service or product to them, according to Salesforce. Compare that to the number of consumers who expect free same-day shipping (24 percent, according to the National Retail Federation) and it becomes clear that many more buyers are more concerned with the quality of the customer interaction than the speed of product delivery. In other words, customers are willing to wait longer for final product delivery than for information.

Another case in point: 79 percent of online shoppers said “their overall experience with a brand or retailer” is critical in determining who they buy from. “Overall experience” is the operative word here. There are a lot of different ways to offer value to customers, whether you’re in a B2B or B2C market. The key is to find a way to facilitate the perception of a strong overall experience, even if you’re not necessarily the fastest or the cheapest. Some of that will boil down to how you brand your business. But much of that brand perception will depend on customer’s impression of how good of a job you do at communicating with them in real time.

Managing expectations at the last mile

Now apply this logic to last-mile delivery tracking, and what exactly do you get? How about the ability to provide real-time updates about shipments via text message and/or email? We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: So much about how your customers perceive your quality of service will depend on your ability to manage their expectations and shape that perception.

We’re not saying to abandon your hopes of minimizing touchpoints in your downstream operation or to give up finding new delivery models that will help you provide faster, more consistent delivery times. But literally all it takes to provide customers with real-time delivery updates is a smartphone in the hands of each driver in your fleet. Every box that is scanned into a mobile app on that smartphone is recorded as data so that with each leg of the product’s journey, the customer knows exactly what’s happening.

This visibility goes such a long way toward helping customers feel like they’re working with a business that provides operational transparency.

And really, that’s half the battle.

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The first rule of customer satisfaction: Communicate