When a “Nice to have” becomes a “Need to have”

At the risk of dating myself, I distinctly remember when social media – specifically, LinkedIn – went from an interesting new way of using the Internet to a career-critical tool. I was a marketing manager at a large software company, and our team attended an employer-sponsored workshop to teach us what these new “social media” websites were and how to use them. (Seriously.) At the end of the workshop, we all had to create LinkedIn profiles (I opted out of MySpace!), and within a few days, I realized what a game-changer LinkedIn was going to be.

We can all think of similar groundbreaking examples: smartphones, Microsoft Excel…the list goes on. And in the world of supply chain, such innovations as UPC codes and, more recently, robotics, are counted among the “must have” technologies driving efficiency.

A recent Freightwaves webcast, featuring FourKites and Ryder, argues that a comprehensive Supply Chain Visibility program should be considered a “must have” innovation, and shippers need to put such a program in place as soon as possible. Here’s why:

It’s all about the customer… and it’s all in the data

Much has been written about the Amazon effect, and the way in which Amazon rewrote the rules defining customer experience. Organizations have the opportunity to improve customer satisfaction before the product they’re shipping even arrives on the shelves. Supply chain teams can contribute to this by ensuring that customers know exactly when their shipment is arriving and proactively managing exceptions when things go wrong. As Dave Belter from Ryder put it, “In the logistics space, you really don’t make anything except happy customers.”

Supply Chain Dive recently published an excellent article called, “How Kraft Heinz Found the Upside of OTIF.” The piece details how Kraft embraced the metric as a catalyst to improve their supply chain operations, and how they overhauled processes, tech, even meeting cadences, around the metric. The organization found that taking a data-driven approach to performance not only improved their service to WalMart in the form of an improved OTIF score, but also had the residual effect of boosting confidence in their decision-making.

Communication is key

“Complete visibility and transparency is paramount to success.” Ryder takes a careful, deliberate approach to notifications so that the right information is going out to the people who need to know, when they need to know it. Preventing customers from being bombarded with unnecessary information on their deliveries is as important as ensuring customers receive proactive, relevant communication.

This philosophy of proactive communication changes the dynamic between shipper and customer. As one customer service leader told us recently, “There’s nothing worse than getting to your desk at 8 AM and finding you already have 3 angry voicemails from your customer asking where your truck is.” If you can proactively reach out when a load is late, that translates into greater customer satisfaction, even if you’re not able to recover that load.

And using machine learning-powered algorithms to predict when a shipment is at risk allows for more recovered loads than ever. One major retailer recovers up to 35% of late or at-risk loads as a result of their supply chain visibility platform. And if they can’t recover, they can notify store managers with plenty of time to reschedule the appointment or dock labor.

The role of the network

Many factors over the past few years have put stress on the shipper / carrier relationship. Terms like “shipper of choice” are used because carriers have the leverage to choose who they work with. At the same time, with transportation costs escalating, shippers are interested in working with carriers with a good track record.

So, what is the best tool for determining shipper-of-choice status and reliable, trustworthy carriers? Data. Having data-driven meetings removes emotion from the conversation. The transparency that good data provides changes the dynamic with carriers. Instead of calling carriers when there’s a potential problem, having a good supply chain visibility program in place ensures the shipper already has the information they need to work productively with the carrier on root-cause analysis and controls to ensure the issue does not repeat.

And having access to the same real-time data as the shipper benefits the carrier as well, creating a better relationship that benefits both parties.

That said, implementing a successful supply chain visibility program requires more than just software that works. The right carrier onboarding methodology is crucial to ensuring that shippers and carriers are looking at – and analyzing – the right data. Making sure to choose a provider who’s able to access the data, no matter what format it’s in, is the main advice offered by Dean Croke from Freightwaves.

Managing the details of the carrier onboarding process is also crucial to getting ROI from a supply chain visibility program, according to Ryder. Having a provider with a deep carrier network will ensure that they have the tools and experience necessary to do onboarding right.

Supply Chain Visibility…the time is now

Implementing a supply chain visibility program is key to maintaining loyal, profitable customers. Leading shippers have already realized true ROI and competitive advantage as a result, but it’s not too late to start the process of researching what’s available. Remember, though, that unlike the iPhone, this “must have” innovation is a journey, not a plug-and-play program. Don’t let that stop you – investing in this technology will pay for itself many times over.

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