Designing Customer Experience

by Doug Ugarte, Supply Chain Consultant

Designing and managing customer experience is a lot like chauffeuring your customer safely to their destination, when suddenly you have a flat tire… on the highway… at night… and have only a crescent wrench and flashlight to replace it. Did we mention that during this process, your customer should be relaxing in the backseat, blissfully unaware of the mission-critical upgrade you are performing under a constrained schedule? If you’re involved in designing or supporting customer experience, you’ve probably contributed to the Herculean efforts that go into producing delighted customers.

Whether your role sits in Supply Chain, Marketing, or Customer Service centers, a tremendous amount of focus is applied to the design and management of customer experience.  Interestingly, we see each of these teams having varying degrees of ownership of designing customer experience, crafting solutions, implementing services, and managing toward a predictable and reliable result.  How are you approaching the customer experience?  Did you take an iterative approach based on customer feedback and/or competitive benchmarking?  Or did you begin with a vision of the end to end experience and implement a solution to support it?

If you expect your customer to choose you for their next purchase, it is paramount that you deliver on your customer experience promise.  Regardless of your product or industry, customers expect and demand flawless execution.  eCommerce customers expect to know when their product will arrive before they even purchase it.  After purchasing it, they want to know that it shipped on time, who is delivering it, its transit status, and that it arrived…all in real time.  Manufacturing and commercial customers rely on you to deliver on your promises so that they can meet their own customer commitments.  You fail once and you might get a second chance.  You fail twice and you’re done.

Different departments could have ownership over designing customer experience.  It may be Marketing because this could be a branding function at your company.  It could be the Customer Service group because they are closest to managing the reality of customer experience.  Or it may be your Supply Chain organization because most of the building blocks of the solution align to their charter.  Regardless of the owner, a successful customer experience requires these teams to perform in concert to decide what to implement, execute the solution, and drive continuous improvement.

To be successful, you must have these core competencies:

  1. Know what you can promise
  2. Clearly articulate the experience that the Customer can expect
  3. Keep your customer informed of progress of their purchase
  4. Deal with issues as soon as they arise. Reset customer expectations if you are unable to resolve the issue behind the scenes

Looking at the list of core competencies, everything falls into one of two themes – external customer communications or internal operations – that determine what can be promised and the certitude of delivering on that promise.

If you pull back the curtain at leading supply chains, you will find a customer promise that is built on knowing that product is available, how long it will take to ship, and how long it will take to arrive at the customer’s doorstep. The building blocks of these core competencies comprise the following strategies:

Formulate your Customer Promise

  • You can have a customized promise to each customer based on real time supply chain insights. Alternatively, you can provide a static offer to all customers and the offer can be adjusted if there are constraints affecting delivery.
  • Inventory Availability – You have unreserved and unrestricted product to ship.
  • Logistics – Calculate time to delivery. Based on ship from/to addresses, calculate delivery commitment based on customer-determined shipping service level.
  • Fulfillment Center – Visibility to operational performance. If SLAs are not being met, you might need to adjust the customer promise up front rather than apologizing for a missed commitment.

Visibility to Execution

  • Integration across all internal and external partners designed to provide real time visibility.
  • Integration should tell you 1) you have a problem, 2) what problem you have, 3) the scope of the problem, and 4) what time it occurred. Visualization tools help you see the issue and if it is growing.
  • This is where “batch” processing becomes the enemy to customer satisfaction. For every minute you don’t know about a problem that has already started, you diminish your ability to fix it without impacting the customer.

Exceptions Management

  • Identify your most common problems and incorporate automated exception handlers to resolve problems before they impact your customer experience. Examples include: Automatically upgrading your shipping service level from 2-day to Overnight because the fulfillment center is a day late. Or, automatically sending a replacement shipment if the logistics provider system shows the item lost or damaged in transit.
  • If you cannot meet your customer commitment, reset expectations based on real time insights (same logic as formulating the original promise). Automated messaging keeps your customer informed and reduces the strain on customer service resources.

Leverage data insights from your Customer Service organization for feedback on how customers feel about your designed experience and how reliably you are meeting it.  Social media analytics can offer additional visibility to what is being said about your company, your customer policies, customer experiences, and more.  You should also assess your competition to understand what you’re up against.  From competitive analysis, social media analytics, and customer feedback given directly to your company, you can garner a good understanding of purchasing drivers, how customers view you versus your competition, and how customer perception aligns to your designed customer experience.  The more granular view you have into the systems and partners involved in the end to end experience the better you will be able to 1) compare customer perception to reality, and 2) evolve your supply chain to be more closely aligned with the reasons customers buy from you instead of your competitor.

Customer experience requires close collaboration between departments that sometimes measure success quite differently.  It requires a complex technical solution to align directly to the customer experience design.  The weakest link is frequently access to real time data, so systems integration becomes a prerequisite for success.  Lastly, with the solution deployed, leverage every source of customer and market insight to understand if you’ve implemented the right design relative to both customer desires and the competitive landscape.