If you know exactly what your customers want in your products and customer experience—and you're right in your assumptions—you're in an elite group. Give yourself a good, hearty pat on the back before you look to the future. Though you may know what buyers want know, customer demands seem to morph, shift and grow with each new leap forward on the technological timeline. While this phenomenon can seem at odds with your risk management goals within the supply chain, it doesn't have to be—in fact, there's a silver lining to life in the cloud, and benefits to be reaped from a consumer cycle gone digital.
Know the Trends
Thankfully, one of the side effects of ever-present, easily-accessible technology is a virtual (no pun intended) treasure trove of feedback, public discussions and indexed data. As a supply chain professional, this means that you—or your company’s marketing or quality assurance team, depending on division of duties and effort—are able to search product-oriented hashtags, keywords, review blogs and on-site reviews quickly and consistently. For example, if data is showing that a particular product-associated hashtag has been steadily declining in use over time, and order volume has previously fallen in line with this trend, component ordering can be reined in to prevent stock overages. Additionally, if a term or request seems to have the major social media networks all a-buzz, it can be used as a signal to increase future order volume accordingly in the short term.
Meet Them Where They Are
As Tom Caporaso writes for Supply and Demand Chain Executive, it's the responsibility of the entire supply chain to learn and master the methods consumers are using to shop. If they're browsing on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, it's a safe bet that they'll want their shipping options and updates from the same place. If your tech outlay and strategy allows for only limited online functionality and transparency, they won't hesitate to bounce to a competitor that offers a more welcoming experience, if only to save time and effort.
While it would be foolhardy to chase every new aggregate sales site or dashboard on the market, an informed supply chain manager should be aware of the larger, more enduring options and tune their workflows to integrate smoothly, wherever possible.
Don't Be Tempted to Exaggerate or Omit
Discussing the recent revelation about Volkswagen's less-than-honest emissions claims, Gary Gigot of Supply and Demand Chain Executive highlights an interesting point: the breach of trust had a higher negative impact on purchasing than that of the actual emissions data.
Customers are often willing to forgive a functional misstep with their products or orders, so long as the company is open and honest about it. Resist the urge to blame shipment delays on phantom causes, and don't keep customers in the dark if there's a problem. While such tactics may be able to stall mobs of disgruntled customers during a major backup, they'll vent elsewhere when they discover the truth—and that venting might not be easily remedied. Word of mouth giveth and word of mouth taketh away, so make sure that you retain control of customer connections by having important shipment-related discussions proactively, not reactively.
Listen to Your Customers
Your supply chain strategy will always depend on how in tune you are with your customers' wants and needs. To that end, consider research into their habits as important a part of your supply chain planning as selecting vendors or negotiating invoice terms. Your customer is, ultimately, the final node in the supply chain while remaining the beginning node as well. Effectively, nothing starts moving until they start buying. Don't be afraid to explore their technologies, get into their head a little bit, and leave them pleasantly surprised with some customer-centric forethought in your supply chain movements.