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Customer-Centric Operations

If you look inside any major shipping company and somehow manage to dig all the way down to wherever Operations is hidden, you’ll find dedicated teams of people that work ridiculous hours to get your shipment from A to B safely, and on time. However, if you ask that same group of people how much they know about their customers, the answer will be pretty much “nothing”.

When we talk about keeping customers happy or customer engagement, there is the tendency to think primarily about how customer service interacts with the customers and key accounts. Operations feels like the furthest point you can get from the customer in the shipping world.

I want to challenge that thinking. You can have fantastic customer service. You can give customers the best prices, the best packages, the best service offerings, even the best free lunches. If the OPS team cannot actually execute what you have sold, your customer experience sucks.

Think about Amazon for a moment. You go online and find what you want to buy. One click to put it in your cart, one click to go to the checkout. Then I want to decide how fast I need my item. Let’s say I want it as fast as possible. I pay the premium shipping price and make my payment. Amazon let’s me know they have received my order, then they let me know when it has shipped and what the tracking number is.

Most of the time, my package arrives on the day it was supposed to and I walk away as a happy customer and will likely shop with Amazon again.

Now, Amazon itself isn’t doing the shipping. It’s going to be the likes of FedEx, UPS or DHL. To me, it doesn’t really matter. If I want to know where my package is, where it’s been, and when it is expected to arrive, I can find all of that by using the tracking number that Amazon gave me.

For me personally, it’s largely irrelevant if my item is shipping from New Jersey via Memphis

Alaska, Japan and then finally onto Singapore. What is relevant is that I can log in there and I can see there is progress. I can see that in all likelihood, my item is going to arrive on time and I will be a happy customer.

What happens when something goes wrong? Amazon could keep quiet. They could hope that I don’t notice or don’t check the tracking number. They could wait for me to phone up and ask them about it. They could be super-friendly but still not get my package on time. Now I’m pissed.

That’s why Amazon does exactly the opposite. If there is even a hint of a delay, they will let me know immediately. They will let me know that they are doing everything they can to get it back on track. They are totally transparent. They don’t shift the blame to someone else, they don’t tell me it’s the fault of FedEx…….because they know that I don’t care whose fault it is. I bought it from Amazon, it’s Amazons’ problem.

Even if they can’t get it back on track, they will keep me informed about the new arrival date as soon as they can. If it’s very late, they may even give me back the additional shipping fees that I paid to ensure fast delivery.

The bottom line is that Amazon can FAIL to deliver what they promised, but I will likely still walk away as a satisfied customer because they didn’t keep me in the dark. Their OPS teams talked to their Customer Service Teams and they kept me in the loop….without the bullshit.

In shipping, we are terrible at this. Whether we are talking Liner Shipping or Amazon, both have customer service teams, both have operational teams. One cannot deliver without the other. So why does Operations see itself as so far removed from customer satisfaction? I would argue that Operations is the most closely linked department to how happy your customers are.

As a consumer, it’s unlikely that the book I ordered being a couple of days late is going to have a major impact on my life, but what if I am running a business? If I know that my container is going to be late, the moment that Operations realise that it’s going to be late, I can start to plan for it. I can have contingency plans ready to activate in order to keep my business running, temporarily reduce output and, perhaps most important of all, keep my own customers advised.

Shipping is starting to catch on to the fact that customers do actually have a choice and they do matter. Getting Operations on the same page is another challenge but if you really want happy customers, then OPS have to get onboard.

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