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A roller coaster experience I had on a recent trip got me thinking about how the quality of a customer experience is really defined by the aggregate of many separate touch points and how important it is for supply chain professionals to design and manage their supply networks with the full customer journey in mind.
My paradoxical journey began when needed to change the date on an existing flight reservation. I called the airline’s customer service number and explained my request to the representative. After 35 minutes on the phone, mostly on hold, I was informed that they would be happy to accommodate my request, but the change fee was almost as much as I had paid for my original reservation. I was beyond frustrated, but had no choice but to pay their preposterous change fee. As I hung up the phone, I swore to myself that I would never again book another trip with that airline.
Then, when it was time for me to take my very expensive flight, as I buckled up in my seat, the pilot announced that our departure would be delayed due to technical problem with the exit door. I immediately flashed back to the frustration I felt dealing with the customer service rep. To my surprise, however, my anxiety level quickly dissipated as the pilot continued to update us on the progress of the repair. He admitted he had no idea how long it will take, but kept checking back in so that we weren’t sitting there wondering “What’s going on?”
The pilot’s direct and frequent communications set our expectations as passengers, and communicated an understanding that we passengers were also paying customers, and as such, deserved to be treated respectfully. In the end, we sat over an hour at the gate waiting for the technical issue to be resolved. Like me, most of the other passengers ended up taking the delay in stride, our irritation quelled by the pilot’s proactive communications.
Had my interaction with this airline ended with that exasperating customer service call, they would have likely lost a customer for life, but, the positive in-flight encounter has made me reconsider my boycott.
The lesson for supply chain professionals is that every single touch point with a customer, or a customer’s customer, must be focused on building a positive customer journey. Because today’s customers have access to more information and more alternative products and services than ever before. If you want to keep or capture their business, you’ve got to earn it.
Realistically, there will always be certain aspects of any customer journey that are suboptimal. Things you cannot control or anticipate – like a broken exit door. If you manage customer expectations properly, however, customers will be much more likely to have a positive, or at least neutral, experience.
In the supply chain, when we talk about risk, the primary focus is generally on mitigation or avoidance. I believe that how we communicate these risks to supply chain partners and set their expectations is just as important, and too often, overlooked.
For example, if a component is in short in supply, and you don’t know when to expect the inventory to arrive, you can either screen calls to avoid angry and desperate customers, or you can proactively communicate the issue to the customer, assuring them that they have not been forgotten.
When we communicate in this open and transparent manner, we control the narrative and influence customer perceptions of our value. Now, more than ever, it’s important to collaborate within the company and break down silos that inhibit seamless information sharing, so we can create the best customer journey we can across all the touch points within the company. Every great journey begins with a single step. Make sure your customer journey starts and ends on the right foot.