Logistics is a crucial component in the efficiency of many companies. Without a good logistics plan as part of your supply chain, then getting goods to markets – or receiving raw goods – becomes a difficult task. But in order for logistics activities to operate smoothly, there is another crucial component to be considered: customer service.
Without a good level of communication and an efficient level of customer service, then any logistics chain will not operate as well as it should. Providing good customer service and communications as part of your logistics services is essential to success.
Communicate Quickly and Thoroughly to Build Trust
Communication and trust go hand-in-hand. When a client sees that you communicate all information quickly, even when it may be bad news, then they will realize that they can trust you in every aspect of your relationship.
Updating clients at different stages of their logistics experience means they know your company is thorough. While advising a client of a delay may seem like a negative, it is also good business practice as it enables them to make any adjustments to their own schedules. Whether dealing with inbound logistics or outbound logistics, good channels of communication must be a constant factor.
Speed is not just about how quickly you deliver goods. It is also about how quickly you respond to customer inquiries. In the modern logistics industry, it’s not just about how fast you deliver shipments, but about how fast you deliver information.
Consistency has to be present in how you communicate with customers. Always provide a customer with answers, even when you don’t have one. That may sound wrong, but if you don’t have an answer to hand, explain to the customer that you are looking into the matter and will get back to them as soon as you have a full answer.
Honesty and integrity should be two of the foundation principles for any logistics company. Honesty from the start means that you should be presenting the following qualities as part of all the services you provide:
- Communication that provides honest information with nothing hidden.
- 100% transparency of the company’s knowledge base and abilities. This includes knowledge of all relevant laws and regulations of any countries or regions they are operating in.
- Consistent and accurate of all pertinent data or information and sharing of that information where that action does not breach confidentiality or data protection laws.
Communicating quickly is not enough to build a solid relationship of trust. The communications must also be honest and transparent at all times.
Build a Process to Fuel Continual Learning for Employees
If you asked people what the most important assets of a logistics company were, they would probably respond with distribution centers, warehouses and trucks. But the real assets of a good logistics company are its staff. Having well trained staff at every level, from sales to warehouse manager to accounting, means you are helping to improve your levels of customer service.
And with the industry constantly shifting and evolving, especially in terms of technology, continual learning has never been more important.
Learning can be structured on several levels:
- Training for new employees
- Ad hoc training on new processes or systems or any changes
- Scheduled team training to share experiences and solutions
- Specialist off-site training where relevant
Learning and training can be customized according to your needs. Identify team members who can deliver any training where possible, or utilize specialist training providers if needed.
Methods to Emphasize Continual Learning
New experiences and new learning opportunities can happen every day in the logistics industry. But how can you incorporate them into any training and learning model?
Regular team meetings where possible can be a great method to emphasize continual learning. If possible, having the whole team meet daily to discuss any problems or learned solutions which can be of benefit to the company as a whole. If not possible, try and arrange meetings of separate teams.
If daily meetings of the entire team are impossible, ensure that a weekly meeting is scheduled. This allows time for reflection and review, to identify problems and to brainstorm solutions where needed.
For new employees, beyond any basic training, partner the new worker with an experienced employee if possible. They can learn more in a week with someone who has been doing certain duties than they will in a month left on their own. You can also put together sessions led by experienced team members in each area of operations to give a fuller overview.
Minimize Customer Touch Points With Your Team
Where you have any ongoing or long-term clients, ensure they have the minimum number of contacts possible. Good customer service is about building relationships and when a customer speaks to a different staff member every time they contact you, then that relationship can be fragile.
Try and allocate one staff member to handle that customer throughout the relationship with one other as backup. Have that staff member go and meet the customer if possible. Having that minimal touch point will instil confidence in your client.
Methods to Minimize Customer Touch Points With Your Team
The idea of minimizing your customer touch points is a good one, but outside of allocating certain staff to deal with clients, how else can you achieve it?
One thing that annoys many customers is complicated email chains with multiple recipients. While your customers do want to be kept apprised of all aspects of their contract, they do not need to see an email that has bounced between multiple staff members.
Keep internal communications separate from emails to the customer. Where there is information from internal mail that needs to be sent to the customer, then place it in a separate mail to the client.
The use of good email systems – both internal and external – can ensure that messages get to the right people by means of automatic routing. Having efficient communication systems at every level of your business helps ensure good customer service.
Take Advantage of Many Communication Channels
Email and phone may seem the most obvious means of communication but in the modern age, they are not always enough. Using multiple channels of communication is another way of improving your customer service.
Does your business have live chat incorporated into your website? Do you use Twitter? Or do you use Facebook or other social media? And installing a business SMS service is a great option for sending updates in real time.
Having all these channels open to your customers and your staff means that customers know they can always get in touch via one of these mediums.
Unify Your Communications
The obvious problem that can arise from multi-channel communications is the potential for confusion. The solution to this is to unify all your communication channels using one of the many business software packages which brings all these channels together in one inbox.
This means that no matter how many ways you have communicated with the client, there is a single point of reference to refer to and it also makes all communications easier to audit.
Quality Customer Service is Memorable
Unlike many industries, much of your service may be invisible to customers. They may never see your trucks, your warehouses, or most of your staff, which is why providing a positive customer service experience is essential.
Think of your customer service as the most visible part of your business and make it efficient and memorable.
Evaluate Hiring, Retention and Turnover
In the long-term, some level of employee turnover is inevitable. People may move from the area or decide on a new job or career. There is little you can do retention-wise for that group. But approximately 20% of new employees leave in the first 45 days. This can be for a variety of reasons, some of which can be addressed, others, such as the job not being what they expected, cannot.
It is advisable to look at what your most important HR metrics are and evaluate them. Where turnover appears unnaturally high, consider holding exit interviews to identify any issues then address those problems.
Good HR policies and keeping on top of any problems can encourage better retention levels. It also makes sense to keep abreast of any salary changes within the industry. Are your salary levels comparable to peer businesses? A good HR department can keep up to date with anything that may lead to increased turnover.
By having good product cost management processes in place, you can monitor every stage of your logistics chain, from receiving the raw material or goods from the point of origin to picking orders to transportation management of getting the goods to their destination. This not only helps to reduce costs, but also increases efficiency and can help to maximize profits. Management software can help with this process.
Minimize Handling and Touches
Think of your business as a machine. The more complex a machine is then the more likely that something will break down. By ensuring there is a simple process from starting point to end point, you increase efficiency and make customer satisfaction more likely.
The less handling and touches that happen in your logistics chain, the better the process will be. Look at how your chain operates. Are there unnecessary stages that are delaying the process? Identification of any such issues and reducing those touches are always good for business and can reduce costs too.
Facilitate Seamless Picking and Packing
There are various ways to improve your picking and packing process. Having a good SKU system (stock keeping unit) means that it is easier for order pickers to locate and find multiple items for an order. By looking at how – and where – you stock certain items, you can improve efficiency and make the process as seamless as possible.
Consider On-Demand Packaging
Rather than taking up valuable space on your premises with large amounts of ready packaging, on-demand packaging offers a solution which saves space and money. By customizing your packaging process, you add a new level of efficiency to your logistics chain, On-demand packaging can offer the following advantages.
- Saves space in your warehouses
- Reduces unnecessary clutter
- Can minimize any damage to goods and products
- Offers potential savings in labor
- Gives you the choice to customize labeling and printing on packing materials
- Is more environmentally friendly
- Can offer savings on shipping costs
If you think about how you organize your kitchen, then the things you use most are those that are most easily accessible. That same principle should be applied in your warehouse spaces. By employing a good warehouse management system (WMS), you can identify which goods are most frequently picked and which goods are rarely picked. Advanced slotting can offer you savings and increased efficiency on several levels.
Use Available Resources More Productively
Efficiency issues usually arise not because of the resources we already have, but because of how we use those resources. By taking a systematic approach to how we do things, we can identify areas where we can improve our productivity.
- Set yourself a baseline on which to improve upon. This can be how your company performed in a certain time period (a period of days such as 30 is better than a calendar month).
- Do not only analyze your own performance. Where possible, analyze the performance of your competitors.
- If you identify areas that can be improved, create an action plan and timeframe to achieve the desired results.
- You action plan should always have achievable results in the set timeframe. Never set up your employees to fail.
- Identify an efficient way of recording, reporting, and analyzing any changes.
- Set up review points within your plan. For example, if your timeframe to achieve results is 12 months, have reviews every 3 months to see how on track you are.
Rethink Transportation Modes and Routes
In many cases, your choice of modes and routes may be limited. Depending on the type of cargo, you may only be able to use a maritime route and that mode in turn may dictate the routes to be used.
But in other cases, we have a choice of modes and routes. It is crucial that you do not get bogged down in set patterns because that is the way you have always operated. With constantly changing routes and with increased efficiency in some modes, it is essential that you analyze the choices available to offer the client the best options.
Time restraints play a large part in making these choices. If a delivery is time sensitive, then you are looking for the quickest option. Where a delivery is not time sensitive, then you can look at what option is the most cost-effective. By having a full awareness of the options open to us, we can best respond to customer demand.
These factors can be especially relevant when we are dealing with cross docking or with reverse logistics projects.
Establish Vendor Scorecard
By establishing a vendor scorecard, you put in a process which can aid both you and the vendor. Keep any scorecard process as simple as possible as it will likely be getting input from multiple areas of the business.
Identify what KPIs (key performance indicators) are important to your relationship with the vendor. Most of your KPIs should be included in your initial contract with the vendor. They can include such things as time taken to fulfil orders or services, level of communication, and how well they respond to urgent demands or emergencies.
Increase Information Visibility
Your information visibility refers to how you share relevant data regarding how your business works on a day-to-day basis, including how your products move and how your transportation system operates.
It is an essential part of a good integrated logistics chain. If this data is unavailable to all parts of your chain, including customers or other operators, then its value is lessened. Increasing your information visibility to include all stakeholders can reduce costs and help to utilize all available assets.
Collaboration between these stakeholders makes good business sense on every level. There are many good software packages to help with BPO (Business Process Optimization) and CFPR (Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment).
By utilizing these types of software and by strengthening existing networks, you can more easily plan for and forecast future developments.
Choose the Tools and Partners Accurately
Although we live in an age where technology plays a major part in logistics planning and management, the human factor still has a crucial role to play. There is little benefit in choosing a company with the latest software and technology of those assets are poorly used and managed.
When considering a new logistics partner, look closely at their operation. Do they have experienced and competent brokers? Are their carriers efficient? Do they have a good reputation within the industry?
Taking some time to investigate new partners and tools can prove to be time well spent in the long term.
Transparency and Personal Approach
Another of your foundation principles should be to make the customer experience as easy and pain-free as possible. This is not only about ensuring that deliveries happen on time, but also about your processes being transparent. They should be able to constantly track any shipments, compare prices when needed, and also to understand how you as a company work.
By following those rules, and by keeping the level of communication high, you help the customer to have a more personalized experience overall. Send regular updates on how their shipment is progressing, if there are any expected delays due to traffic or weather, and constantly update estimated times of arrival.
Establish the Last Mile Delivery
For many athletes, the final part of the race is the most crucial. And it is the same with logistics. It is also the stage where if something is going to go wrong, it probably will. Give extra attention to this stage to ensure that the delivery is completed successfully.
We have emphasized the importance of communication at every stage of the business. But perhaps the place where it is most important is once the job has been completed, especially if there were any problems.
Feedback should be a two-way street. You can give feedback to customers regarding any problems, how you solved them, and how you can prevent them from happening in the future. Clients can feedback to you on how happy they were with the service, whether you met or failed to meet their expectations, and how they feel you can do better in the future.
How you deal with problems, and how you handle any criticism can make a big impression on customers and can help assure more business with them.
Providing honest and transparent customer service means that you retain clients even when something goes wrong. By maintaining high levels of communication and customer service, you enhance your company’s reputation. Customers are often less concerned about issues arising than they are about how you deal with issues and how you communicate with them.
With an established international network of partners and carriers, Asiana USA offers unparalleled service and supply chain management in the logistics industry. We offer global import and export logistics services and the best in customer service. For assistance please call us at 855-500-1808.