Customer Experience and Supply Chain have become a symbiotic relationship. A Gartner study has also reflected the same notion and emphasized that supply chain is increasingly focused on customer service and offering differentiated services and fulfilment options, all in alignment with the enterprise agenda. Customer fulfilment can optimize profitability, operational efficiency, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. Our recently held panel discussion, ‘Customer Centric Supply Chains’ during the 5th edition of Celerity Supply Chain Tribe Awards, deciphered on the parameters that supply chain managers need to re-invent for improving customer experience, highlighted the best practices being adopted by leading companies in the customer enablement journey and most importantly, discussed the do’s and don’ts towards achieving a truly customer centric supply chain. An excerpt…
According to research conducted by Accenture, the top 90 supply chains have achieved 13% higher growth, three times higher contribution to total revenue. One of the differentiation points of top supply chain management companies compared to their peers is to start thinking with customers in mind. In other words, they build a supply chain strategy based on customer values. They are aware that meeting these changing customer expectations can make a significant difference, so they focus on the most important value propositions when investing in the supply chain. To establish growth, they adopt customer-centric supply chain strategies.
Customer-centric supply chains focus on the experiences of their customers in all supply chain operations to meet their demands. In other words, manufacturers focus on how they present their goods and services to the ever-changing market in addition to operational efficiency. They must be able to timely obtain, correlate and act upon demand requests to make decisions in planning, routing, and scheduling activities throughout the supply chain. This, in return, leads to an increase in customer lifetime value, customer satisfaction, and profitability while reducing churn.
Becoming a customer-centric organization can be a complex and time consuming process. However, if adopted, companies are empowered to focus on their customers and quickly adapt to meet changing customer needs, which makes them gain adaptability and resiliency. One of the reasons why companies need adaptability is because supply chain challenges such as the volatility, both on the demand and supply sides, is high. This requires companies to be more agile or, in other words, to increase their capability to change. In order to do so, companies need to gain visibility and understanding of the affected parts of their supply chains to be able to respond effectively and keep satisfying their customers.
In addition to customer satisfaction and increased responsiveness, a customer-centric supply chain offers an operational environment where every decision maker within the organization has a clear comprehension of the impact of every decision on every single customer’s service level and holds the pulse of end-to-end operational dependencies among different levels of the supply chain.
With this as the background, we asked supply chain industry experts about their journey towards customer centricity. Here’s what they said…
What are the prominent changes in the supply chain you have witnessed as far as consumer behaviour is concerned? How are you addressing them?
Sreenivas Rao Nandigam, Global Head - Supply Chain, Sun Pharma: Customer centricity provides pharma companies with a blueprint for engaging all parties by focusing on their needs and priorities, highlighting product value, and delivering quality products and services. As healthcare delivery shifts from consumer awareness to decision management, pharma companies must analyze and act on data about patients, physicians, payers, and other stakeholders to engage decision-makers at every level. Over the past few years, the ensuing global changes have accentuated the importance of customer centricity in pharmaceutical industry. For us at Sun Pharmaceuticals, customer centricity is not just about looking at the distributors’ supply chain system or only the end consumer, we need to place greater emphasis on the people who are actually influencing the demand. For pharmaceutical companies, our ultimate customers are medical professionals because they are the ones who influence and prescribe the medicines to the end consumer. It’s important for us to look at the overall ecosystem. Imagine if the doctor prescribes a particular medicine and that medicine is not available on the shelf, the entire chain continues of going back to the doctor and getting an alternate medicine prescribed. We started monitoring the availability to start with at our CFA/Depot location and improved that metric from a very low number to more than 94% for CFA-SKU combinations across the country, the next step was to look at the availability at the key distributors. OSA at chemist level is perhaps the next step in the next 2-3 years.
Sukanta Das, President and Chief Logistics Officer, Hindalco Industries: To answer this question let’s first try to see how much we as consumers have changed when we look for any specific product or a manufacturer. All of us are consumers in one way or other and when we look at the changing behaviour, it now goes beyond the product, we now look at fulfilment capabilities of the company, origin of the product, reviews in the market, etc. In this regard, I recently came across an interesting survey where it was stated that 95% of consumers monitor their order life cycle throughout its journey on the digital platforms. 30% of consumers drop-off or empty their cart due to unavailability next-day or 1 day delivery. If that’s true in the B2C space, let me add that there is also a huge shift in consumers’ behaviour in the B2B sector where everybody is looking at the delivery timelines, post purchase serviceability and the transparency. And I think time has come for B2B players to provide end-to-end traceability and transparency in supply chains to our customers. Additionally, with sustainability gaining importance, customers are also focusing on greener mode of transportation and environment friendly packaging. At Hindalco, we lay immense thrust on each and every process before dispatching the final product to our customers in order to cater to their requirements and we are continuously evolving to serve our customers with the most sophisticated and reliable supply chain practices.
Rajat Sharma, Head – SCM, Hamilton Housewares Pvt. Ltd.: Supply chains are facing constantly changing demands as consumer behaviour changes, especially as new channels claim and attempt benchmark terms and lead times on deliveries as well as purchase experience. Recent developments in supply chain management have led to today’s supply chains eyeing deliveries within hours of purchase transactions, whether through partnered Omni-channel supplies or dark stores or piggy backing on conventional channels etc.
We’re also servicing demands of quicker deliveries with the ability to cancel orders or return goods within a certain period if the products do not match the customer’s expectation in any way. This is being managed by engaging with Modern retail chains and ecommerce partners apart from the conventional walk-in channels. To effect this, we invest in shelf availability in offline and online formats and entering into last-mile logistics relationships with specialized agencies. This also requires inventories to be stored, processed and dispatched at a pc level. This is also being managed by supply chains maturing to set up and run a much larger number of FCs compared to the conventional chain of distributors, wholesalers, dealers and retailers. Thus, we invest in Technology, People and Infrastructure that optimizes such networks and processes.
TS Venketram, Co-founder, UNPAUSE Consulting: Over the course of 5-6 months, we are trying to help companies with their supply chain management journey. During the exercise, we have observed key three things –
Companies have started talking about Agility and Responsiveness. A lot of discussion has been happening across the boardrooms of organizations on the basic process adherence, changes that need to be incorporated particularly around sales & operations planning and integrating business planning processes. In short, they are attempting to ensure there is a smooth operational flow within the organization. In order to achieve that, companies are focusing a lot on the cultural shift of leadership to own the processes so that it can have trickle down effect.
Second most important change we have witnessed is Resilience. Having faced umpteen global disruptions lately, companies are looking to shield themselves from such unforeseen eventualities. Companies are focusing on supply chain innovation for strategic supply chain planning to achieve resiliency as it synchronises all components of the supply chain and drives greater visibility and agility. This connected, forward-looking approach helps businesses better anticipate issues, limit the impact of supply chain disruptions, and improve overall operations.
Third and most critical change is about companies driving these changes in a Sustainable fashion. These changes have been completely driven by an aware end consumer. They are reading labels of the product such as is it made from organic materials, the source or the origin of the material, the value chain, etc. They are highly conscious of knowing how quick-to-market they are. In a nutshell, we are changing as Consumers and those changes are fast shaping the value chains of the organizations.
Amitabh Singh, Chief Growth Officer, Stellar Value Chain Solutions: I would just want to split my views in two parts. Since the subject is customer centricity, I would talk like an individual consumer to start with and try to define the expectations that the millennials and GenZ have today and then I would like to draw your attention as to how we are enabling the customers deliver those expectations. We cater to all segments of supply chain, be it B2B, B2C, D2C who have different consumers with different set of expectations. Today’s consumers don’t just go to a store and buy a product. They will compare a whole range of products, check the suppliers, any appealing discounts they are getting from a competing brand, any supporting EMI option available, over, and above this if there are further discounts available with the partner banks. Once the consumer zeroes in on the product, he then prefers a company which delivers him goods at his own convenience. The selection doesn’t end here… the consumer also demands traceability till it reaches the destination. Then comes the aspect of return & exchange and refund if the product is not as per customers’ liking. That’s how the expectations of consumers have evolved in the last few years. This is more pronounced in B2C or D2C channels. B2B channel customers’ expectations are also evolving. Earlier, for e-commerce companies, after receiving orders, packages would be shipped by the next day. Now, the game has changed where the customer is asking for the same day delivery or delivery in few hours. When you're dealing with high volumes of throughput each month, you need a robust system in place. Now-a-days, all thanks to deployment of new age technology in supply chain management, the moment clients place an order, it gets shipped out from the warehouse in about 20-25 minutes.
As 3PL partners, we have to deal with the complexities involved in meeting such expectations. At Stellar, we have visibility solutions for warehouses and transportation, and everything is seamlessly connected. We provide visibility right from the pickup point to the final delivery point, including the warehouse, enabling the consignor and the receiver to see the end-to-end product. They can also do the inventory planning and know where the material is, what time it will arrive and what kind of inventory planning is needed. As per the end consumers’ evolving demands, the entire supply chain or rather the value chain ecosystem has to evolve in order to survive in this market.
What are your views on how visibility alone is impacting our strategies around the kind of products or services that we roll out in the market?
Sreenivas Rao Nandigam: What do you do with visibility is an appealing question that people ask frequently? Companies need to make decisions in time which will actually save cost and improve services. I will give a very simple example, take for instance, any FMCG company which will have more than a thousand distributors in this country. If only I have the visibility of the stock of all the distributors with me, by rebalancing that particular stock on a daily or a weekly basis, I guarantee the service levels to their retailers or distributors will improve by at least 300-400 basis points. I can tell you by rebalancing the stocks within the distributors, there is a possibility for us to actually reduce stock returns in pharmaceutical goods. Procuring data from the various steps of the supply chain network, analyzing it through artificial intelligence and big data, and using the data to deliver the right products efficiently and reliably helps bring agility to logistics and operations management, improve business forecasts, save costs, and meet rising market demands.
Sukanta Das: In modern industries, products or waste materials pass through several stages before they either reach consumers or are safely disposed of. At any stage, there could be visibility gaps leading to mishandling, theft, counterfeiting, loss of goods, or other challenges. Blockchain enables companies to track every stage without loss of visibility. Companies can also choose to make this information available to partners, consumers, etc. to enhance transparency and mutual trust.
At Hindalco, we have been adopting best-in-class digital technologies to achieve higher visibility, speed, and efficiency across our processes. We are leveraging analytics for data-driven process management. For instance, we have GPS-based logistics management system for finished goods. This entails tracking truck movements starting from the refineries to smelters to downstream plants to warehouses and customers. This technology has provided greater visibility on finished goods to both internal and external customers. Other benefits include better operational control, faster damage control in case of accidents and optimal route usages. We have also deployed Blockchain for smart contracts at the foils plant. Workers, suppliers, and Hindalco are connected on a single, transparent and incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions, which records financial transactions and other important developments through a smart contract. This helps users to identify and mitigate inefficiencies across the value chain.
Another important milestone achieved recently, and I would like to bring your attention to is at Hindalco's aluminium plant at Hirakud in Sambalpur, Odisha, a blockchain sustainability system is being used to track waste from generation to end-of-life phase. In basic terms, the system enables Hindalco to authenticate the certification of its waste processing vendors. This ensures that conforming to Hindalco's promise of sustainable and responsible growth, the waste is processed and does not get disposed of in the value chain.
The system at Hirakud is aligned with the UNDP's sustainable development goals related to the quantification of sustainability metrics. With the initial results proving promising, Hindalco already plans to extend the system to other manufacturing locations as well. Blockchain, a next-generation technology, has become an important part of greener supply chains. With its vision of planet-friendly growth, Aditya Birla Group is taking the lead in exploring the applications of blockchain, and other new technologies, for building a more sustainable world. This is how we are attempting to increase our customers’ confidence towards living up to their expectations.
Rajat Sharma: With the changes in consumer behaviour, it is imperative for supply chains to enable and ensure granular visibility at all points of the supply chain – inclusive of the network and transit stages of stocks as well as orders. This visibility is also extended at the same granular level for commercial transactions – payments and receipts, in order for customer experience to be smooth as well as supply chains to keep a clear account of monies paid and received. Visibility also creates opportunities for advanced analytics such as early sending of demand, or PoS forecasts, Cross-Channel trend signals, causal signals impacting fuel or commodity prices and hence a lot of better decision making is made possible.
TS Venketram: There are two tenets of this question – one is related to product visibility and the second is our own ability to have visibility across the value chain. I think one of the things that we try and do is digitize processes. Digitization means different for different organizations. For some, it’s about automating processes, for some, it’s about automating forecasting & demand sensing. As consultants, we are witnessing the real value of digitization in enhanced data visibility. Companies are investing heavily on sensing consumers’ demand. They are seeking our help in getting data regarding their point of sale closer to their consumer vis-à-vis the old pattern where they used forecasting methodologies and techniques to decide where they want to be. It’s a combination of both, but we try and make this better with demand sensing. Secondly, the supply chain trendtoday is that visibility is not just limited to our supply chain, but it’s the extended value chain or the suppliers’ supply chain that makes or breaks the entire ecosystem.
What is the top supply chain strategy change that you have all gone through because of customer behaviour changes?
Sreenivas Rao Nandigam: Recently we heard Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, announcing that all trucks will now need to have air-conditioned driver compartments starting 2025. The intent of bringing this conversation to the fore is that in today’s scenario, we need to design & manufacture products as per our customers’ needs and not vice versa. For us at Sun Pharmaceuticals, it has been a great challenge to come to the conclusion to actually manufacture what the sales team wants basis their conversations with the customers. There’s always going to be a tussle between what we want to manufacture and what the sales team has asked us to manufacture. Decision-making was once the domain of the physician, but increased patient activity blurs the line as to who owns the relationship with pharma companies. Balancing cost with effectiveness is a top strategic priority, as is getting the right message to the right constituencies through multiple owned and independent channels. Patients are changing their attitudes and behavior toward healthcare. They have an increased awareness and role in decision-making, due in large part to shifting financial responsibility. They are hungry for information from numerous sources—from their doctor and health insurer to their pharmacist, drug companies, independent experts, and peers. They are looking for guidance as they navigate the increasingly complex world of healthcare. Ultimately, the smart choice lies in going with what the ultimate consumption demands are.
Sukanta Das: I think post the pandemic, most of the organizations are now trying to focus on strengthening their supply chain with uninterrupted and seamless supplies; either from their strategic vendor-partners or deliveries to their crucial customers. Towards that, there is a definite shift in mindset to augment the supplier-customer relationship from both the sides. Be it through time-bound price protected contracts or timeline committed orders with preferred logistics partners and flexible mode of transportation. Transparency throughout the order journey has become a basic requirement for any consumer. Digitalization is a key enabler towards real-time visibility across the value chain. At Hindalco, we had embarked on the digital journey much earlier, thereby bringing in more confidence and stability in our customer relationship. As we move ahead, the consumer behaviors are going to keep changing if not more demanding but the digital integrations with seamless visibility should be able to bring in better collaborative execution and more confidence between the customers and their suppliers.
Rajat Sharma: As needs change, strategies to address those needs also change. Most supply chains undergo re-valuations and restructuring in networks to reach customers, technologies to engage and retain them and models/processes to serve them better. Upgradation of technology, people skills and infrastructure for the newer channels and creating visibility and visibility-based decision-making tools has been a constant topper on supply chain strategy.
Amitabh Singh: It's a trade-off between cost and service. Given the growing customer demands and product & process complexities, technology has emerged as a catalyst for building value propositions. Moreover, technologies build operational resilience to navigate pandemic-like situations with minimum disruptions. As enablers, we are trying to bring in the global best practices into India and indigenize it. We are in dialogue with many startups to make it happen. As I mentioned earlier, B2C is a lot more streamlined, which is backed by new age technology deployment. On the contrary, B2B is still evolving. When we talk about B2B deliveries, we are talking about modern day deliveries, and that's where you really need systems and processes visibility and also tech-enabled when we talk about end-to-end appointment modules. The key mantra is ‘Don’t over complicate processes. Minimize the variables. Most importantly, Don’t Over Commit and Under Deliver.’
What are the parameters that supply chain managers need to re-invent for improving customer experience?
Sreenivas Rao Nandigam: The traditional metric for the Customer experience is OTIF. In addition, we need to look at how can we ease the customer's supply chain, in B2B scenarios, can the principal companies predict their demand based of the consumer offtake and give inputs for ordering and in a manner of speaking demand planning for the B2B customers.
Sukanta Das: The world is moving quickly, and customers are moving with it. For organizations to achieve a competitive advantage, there’s no time to waste in embracing the customer-centric supply chain. Supply chain or Logistics were earlier seen as cost-centers – today these are service functions contributing to P&L bottomline. Hence the customer first approach with service orientation is a Must-Have for any supply chain organization to excel in this consumer age. The supply chain managers today must also sharpen their sight on the ever-evolving automation & technology, regularly monitor Socio-economical market dynamics with their impacts and master the skill of flexibility in execution. At Hindalco, we are constantly calibrating and syncing our systems and processes in not only making the best metals but also towards delivering the best experience.
Rajat Sharma: Today’s supply chain leaders have gone through a full cycle from the covid era of cash conservation and de-risking of supply chains to ensure sustainability; and then emerged to also manage consumer demands of faster smoother deliveries and easier engagement experiences with products and services both. These meant parameters such as service level were supplemented by turnaround time in hours, free return periods and loyalty programs, consumer visibility on origin of materials used for manufacturing, etc. While maintaining these the fundamentals on reduction of cost to serve have remained the same, making supply chain teams monitor return percentages and cost of reverse logistics, shelf availability was supplemented by marketplace replication, brand websites and WhatsApp/Facebook e-shops.
What are the best practices being adopted by leading companies in the customer enablement journey?
Sukanta Das: This is truly a consumer’s era and that is visible with the customer enablement transformation that has happened over the last decade in the B2C space. Today the consumer is offered with plethora of choices from payment options to delivery options to service options. And the offerings are only improving from good to better. Now, with the consumers from B2B space seeking similar logistical experience, it becomes imperative for even large manufacturing organizations to align with customer facing best practices. Tailored fulfilment, Agile operations, Trustworthy relations, and Innovation are few areas where most leading companies are focusing in reinforcing their practices within their supply chain. So clearly, the changing expectations of customers are visible and along with that the customer-centric approach has now become the focal point of any supply chain function.
Rajat Sharma: Most best practices in customer enablement journey are focusing on easy, quick, and effective customer experiences, whether it is the kirana store, or the retail chains with brand promoters or marketplaces/websites with customized search and price comparisons, product reviews, etc. This has meant investment in technology, automation of transactional steps and intelligence to pre-empt choices and shorten the buy cycle but a much longer customer lifecycle management. That apart in today’s era of online payments and purchases, anti-fraud features have stood out amongst best organizations.
INTO THE FUTURE
A McKinsey research highlighted that the CX programs of the future will be holistic, predictive, precise, and clearly tied to business outcomes. Evidence suggests that the advantages will be substantial for companies that start building the capabilities, talent, and organizational structure needed for this transition. Those that stick with the traditional systems will be forced to play catch-up in the years to come.
For organizations to lead from a customer-centric position, they increasingly need a comprehensive view of the full customer journey, as well as the ability to obtain deep, granular insight on what is driving customer experience. They need immediate and individual signals in order to act “in the moment” and to create relevant experiences for each customer, and they need to demonstrate that the experience enhancements they would like to invest in will result in positive ROI.