In today’s marketplace consumers are expecting more than ever from the companies they do business with. This is creating an intense race to keep up with—and surpass—competitors in order to best serve your existing customer bases and to acquire new customers. So how can you do this?
Go omnichannel. Or, in other words, provide a seamlessly integrated customer experience that provides satisfaction at every level and touch points where customers can reach you. This is different from a multichannel experience in that multiple channels or touch points (such as a mobile site and shipping email confirmation) can exist without being integrated or working together. That’s the important distinction to remember—omnichannel is a highly optimized system that makes sure everything works together flawlessly to deliver the highest quality customer experience. (For some great examples of companies who are excelling at omnichannel strategies see this article on HubSpot.)
Therefore, when it comes to the supply chain specifically omnichannel means that there has to be complete visibility through every path to purchase a customer can take—and the systems it takes to get the product to the customer after its purchase.
And, as you can guess, there are key technologies necessary to reach true omnichannel status.
The foundation of an omnichannel business strategy is good data, and the best data is collected through an automated system. Without automation, it would be impossible to capture all the data required for total integration. This automated identification and data capture (AIDC) can be achieved through a variety of technologies like voice systems, RFID, pick-to-light, laser scanners, CCD scanners, hand-held batch and RF terminals, vehicle-mounted computers, and wearable computers. This allows you to have accurate and in-depth data about every aspect of your supply chain, which in turn leads to smarter business decisions and more efficient processes.
Remember all the data you’re collecting? Well, you’re going to run it through a sophisticated system that allows you to use collected data to predict trends in customer behavior that help you reduce errors and time and resource waste and provide reliable service that keeps customers coming back. Predictive analytics allow you to have greater insight into how much to order, when to order it, how many orders of certain items you can expect and more. Setting up predictive analytics allows you to run your business as efficiently and intelligently as possible starting with making sure your inventory is as lean as possible—and gives you the visibility an omnichannel strategy needs to be successful.
Predictive analytics won’t mean much unless what they’re predicting can be applied across your supply chain—from your warehouse management software to transportation management, billing systems and procurement software. Each of these systems needs to be able to “talk” to the others and have access to relevant data. This ensures no one part of the supply chain can dominate the others and the processes necessary for a successful customer interaction can flow unimpeded.
At the core of every supply chain is the literal supplying of an item via transportation. And, unfortunately, because there are so many outside influences on transportation it can be one of the most difficult aspects of the supply chain to change. This is why transportation modeling technology can be a much more manageable way of optimizing your transportation network. It allows you to create a baseline model of your transportation system, then run it through “what if” scenarios that allow you to see potential outcomes of deviations from your current practices to help increase efficiencies without interrupting the current flow of your freight. This ensures you’ll have an optimized transportation network that’s able to adapt to changes in customer behavior and shifts in demand—providing your customers with the best service.
The last essential piece of the omnichannel puzzle is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that incorporates the data and analytics you’ve collected to provide resources for both customers and employees who work directly with customers (such as customer service or inside sales professionals) with relevant information about purchases. This can include past purchase data, suggestions for future purchases, current inventory status on high demand items, order status information, and more that directly relates back to the supply chain. This transparency between your customers and your business will provide a more satisfactory customer experience.
Achieving full omnichannel status won’t be easy—it takes a good dose of enthusiasm and dedication combined with the technologies listed above to make it successful. But in the customer serving world we live in it could be the difference between being “good enough” and being the best.