Taking the Customer First Approach

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Taking the Customer First Approach

“Customer service is best provided through a robust supply chain. It controls price and delivery – the two most important customer satisfaction factors. You may undercut competitors on retail price with an effective supply chain. You can also meet or exceed client delivery expectations with high-performing operations. To keep customers happy, give them what they want when they want it at the lowest price,” emphasizes Sanjay Kshirsagar, Head of Supply Chain – South Asia, Brenntag India, during an interview…

You have been a close witness to the transformational landscape of Operations & Supply Chains, more so during the last decade. What are the factors that have led to this transformation?

Sanjay Kshirsagar

Businesses face rising global competitiveness and periodic operational model disruptions. They need a roadmap and applicable technology to improve supply chain performance to meet these issues. Transformation and modernization of Operations and Supply chain necessitate a review of existing supply chain processes and business models as well as the implementation of new technologies. Ultimately, a company must align its supply chain functions with its overarching goals and objectives. This ensures that a company’s supply chain meets its requirements, drives its growth & success, and mitigates disruptions and risk.

The progression of this change in Operation and supply Chain can be attributed to the following factors:

  • A strategic vision with quantifiable long-term objectives
  • A plan that is flexible and scalable, because technology evolves rapidly and businesses must keep pace
  • Structured governance, ideally with centralized oversight of digital implementation
  • A customer-focused, data informed and innovative corporate culture.

Based on my experience in supply chain and operations over the last two decades, I can confidently state that a successful supply chain and operation transformation landscape boosts sales, revenues, and profits. This often means digitising supply chain activities and implementing new organisational processes to eliminate challenges and bottlenecks in today’s business and technical world.

What have been a few of the best learnings during the last few years that will stay with you forever and help you climb the success ladder?

Nobody sets out in life intending to fail. But the reality is that far too many people fail, and I, too, have failed on many occasions. One of the secrets to my success is that I am not afraid of failure. Instead, I always pick up the beautiful fruits of failure. For me, failure is a mirror that accurately reflects our flaws. Below mentioned are some of the learnings gained…

  • Discipline: Discipline is the foundation of success. Discipline means failing, falling, getting up, and repeating.
  • The future is in your imagination: Humans have the power to project their thoughts into the future. We can see possibilities by using our imagination.
  • To win, you must expect to winVisualize your ideal future and then wrap it in a set of core values. This will motivate us to work towards the goal.
  • Opportunities await us in every direction: The best way to climb the success ladder is by stepping on the rungs of opportunity. Life is a merry-go-round. Time brings opportunity, recognizing them as brass rings and grabbing them is all we need.
  • Your success depends on other people: Nobody’s alone. Success requires social interaction and support. I make industry, community, and global friends. I believe that knowing more people increases your chances of finding help in a crisis.
  • Read, Read, and Read: In the end, most importantly, one should read as much and as varied subjects as one can to keep oneself updated with the global current market trends and gain insights.

What have been the challenges faced in managing the supply chain and how did you overcome them? Any interesting example that you would like to share with us…

Supply chains have always been prone to interruption. Despite being accurately referred to as the ‘plumbing of global business,’ supply chains have received little attention in the past. Unprecedented occurrences like the Covid-19 outbreak and the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine have once again highlighted the vulnerabilities of global supply chains. Customers’ constantly expanding and evolving needs have only accentuated the supply chain issues. Besides, factors such as market volatilities, trade wars, raw material shortages, climate change, stricter environmental regulations, economic uncertainties, etc., are also keeping the supply chain managers on their toes every single day. They are encountering unexpected delays in shipments. There is huge pressure to curtail costs, while on the other hand, freight rates are on a new high. Abrupt market sentiments are only making demand forecasting a difficult task for supply chain managers.

We have taken various steps to address these issues. We focused our emphasis on automating processes and enhance end-to-end visibility. We partnered with industry peers such as customers and suppliers to harmonize operational processes. 

What has been one of the most challenging tasks that you have achieved in the supply chain? Please elaborate…

During the time of the Covid-19 incident, I was working for a firm that manufactured mechanical cleaning tools, and my primary responsibility was to get dispatches and operations back up and running. Although it was not simple to get operations and deliveries back up and running, we took the highest care of the employees involved, and this was only possible thanks to close collaboration. In addition to this, we were able to properly manage the additional demand during that time.

You have been an integral part of globally leading companies and have worked in various geographies. What are the biggest differences that you have witnessed in managing supply chain in other parts of the world vis-à-vis India?

I have worked, visited, and lived in a variety of multinational corporations and nations with distinctive cultural traditions, including Thailand, China, Singapore, Egypt, Dubai, India, and South Africa. Working in tough environments and interacting with people from other cultures has always been an unforgettable experience of my career. In the course of my previous job, I was exposed to a variety of various cultures and picked up a number of useful supply chain practices.

According to me, the most significant difference is related to the culture and the management of people. Since people are the most important component of any supply chain, I devised the following method in order to overcome these obstacles: practice open communication; Acknowledge the cultural difference and take action accordingly; and pay attention to work schedules.

How can companies strike the right balance when it comes to inventory optimization?

Inventory management requires establishing a balance between supply and demand. Maintaining a sufficient, yet cost-effective supply of products and materials must be balanced with meeting customers’ requirements. Based on my two decades of supply chain experience,

I suggest the following strategies to improve and balance inventory management:

  • Implement Demand Forecasting tools: Demand forecasting can help firms analyze sales patterns using past order data. Businesses can use data to predict product demand and improve customer experience.
  • Automate Replenishment: Manual inventory processing costs time and money. Inventory management software should automate replenishment for companies.Distribute inventory across fulfillment centers.
  • Track the entire supply chain: Supply chains used to have several independent components. Realtime data analytics now inform supply networks of stock quantities, locations, and delivery timeframes. Barcode/QR code scanners and other tracking gadgets have solved numerous logistics issues. Realtime data helps organizations make quick, informed decisions and minimize costs across the supply chain, improving RoI and customer happiness.

Can you share with us demand sensing and advanced planning strategies that will help build resilient supply chains?

Businesses need a resilient supply chain to compete in today’s dynamic environment. Customers’ tastes vary quickly in a turbulent market. Thus, product lifecycles are shortening, and purchasers are spoiled with choice. AI powered demand sensing strengthens supply chains, and companies are using AI and ML to fuel strategy.

The Supply chain Network is becoming more complex, and various disruptions in the network can impact the whole system. Unavailability of data and insights impair decision-making and disable visibility deep down in the demand-supply value chain. Cognitive supply chain planning using AI-driven demand sensing has become even more critical in these uncertain times. It can ensure on-time delivery for improved customer satisfaction and revenue realization, improved forecast accuracy at the product-mix level, and improved working capital with reduced inventories.

Demand Sensing enhances forecast accuracy by handling multiple types of internal and external data sets. It makes promotions more effective and reduces out-of-stock by enabling timely adjustment of replenishment plans. It automates & improves planning and execution and improves forecasting agility as well as creates a responsive supply chain to meet changing demand effectively.

What would you like to advise young supply chain professionals of tomorrow? How can they enhance their skillsets?

On the basis of my own experiences working in the supply chain, I strongly advise that in order to become a competent supply chain manager, every supply chain manager needs to cultivate these seven productive habits.

  • Sceptical: Supply Chain Professionals always assess risk. Scepticism doesn’t mean they’re risk-averse; it means they’re prepared for anything.
  • Eye for Details: Supply chain professionals disregard perceptions and superficial analysis. In-depth and unbiased analysis changes perceptions.
  • Observant: Supply chain professionals are perceptive andcurious. They make decisions beyond reports and excel analyses. They combine quantitative data with qualitative and informal information.
  • Technology Friendly: Supply chain professionals understand technical advances. They analyse local technology and refresh themselves.
  • Challenge the Obvious: Supply chain professionals always look for continuous improvements by challenging what might seem to be given. They don’t take anything for granted.
  • Team Player: This stands out for me as the most critical habit because supply chain procedures necessitate the involvement of cross-functional teams and getting them to agree on the ‘business cause’ is the most difficult assignment. The supply chain serves as the foundation for the balance between demand and supply as well as cost and service.
  • Flexible: Supply chain professionals cannot be dogmatic. They must adjust to corporate and external changes. They adapt their strategy and operations basis the external changes. They may accommodate unexpected chain variations.

What are the qualities of a supply chain leaders that make him a people’s person and the preferred leader / CEO of a company?

Supply chain leaders are often overlooked for CEO positions. However, they make wonderful CEOs and should be considered. Why do so many successful CEOs have supply chain backgrounds? It’s no coincidence that many top business executives come from operational roles like supply chain. Apple CEO Tim Cook was COO first. General Motors CEO Mary T. Barra has extensive operations and supply chain experience. 

We would like to know from you the incredible journey of customer satisfaction to customer delight powered by a nuanced supply chain…

I am a firm believer in making the customer happy, and I think that this should be the focus of all of our efforts. Your company’s expansion is directly attributable to the satisfaction of your current customers.

Customer delight and profitability can be improved by supply chain performance. Effective supply chain management delivers value for customers and your business by reaching customers, cutting retail pricing, and enhancing service levels.

Customer service is best provided via your supply chain. It controls price and delivery – the two most important customer satisfaction factors. You may undercut competitors on retail price with an effective supply chain. You can also meet or exceed client delivery expectations with high-performing operations. To keep customers happy, give them what they want when they want it at the lowest price.

That’s possible with good supply chain management. By picking the proper systems, tactics, and partners in your supply chain, you’re delivering your customers—individuals and businesses—great service, transparency, and visibility. From conception through delivery, you implement systems to eliminate errors and boost inventory efficiency. The better your supply chain, the happy your customers will be and the more likely they are to buy from you again. Your supplier chain has the greatest direct impact on repeat business.

What are the aspects that will make India’s Supply Chain Future-Ready and Resilient?

India needs to effectively bridge the competitiveness gap of US$180 billion vis-à-vis the supply chains of advanced nations and become a leading player globally. Below are some aspects need to work so that India’s supply chain will be ready for future and remain resilient…

An unbalanced logistics modal mixUnnecessary logistics costs stem from a road-heavy mode mix. 40% of logistics costs—6% of GDP—are transportation.

High indirect or ‘hidden’ costs: India has four times the indirect logistics expenses of wealthy nations. Inventory mismanagement and numerous distribution channels are the key causes.

Poor demand forecasting owing to technology adoption causes inventory mismanagement. It also raises inventory carrying expenses, including unsold products storage.

Poor-quality infrastructure: The second-largest road network in the world, India’s 5.5 million kilometers, contains only 2.7% national highways. The national highway network, which conducts 40% of road traffic, suffers.

Limited adoption of the latest technology: AI, blockchain, and IoT adoption in supply chains is slow. Global organizations use the latest technologies to monitor supply chain activities in real-time. Digitization, inventory mismanagement, and faulty demand estimates due to a lack of technology are major factors in India’s competitiveness gap.

Fragmented logistics (trucking) network: Despite its importance to economic growth, India’s logistics sector is fragmented and unregulated with many local firms and no national or regional players that can create end-to-end platforms. The trucking industry is extremely disorganized with non-standard pallets and truck dimensions.

Most Indian truck drivers use single trucks and use third parties to place orders. Only 10% operate fleets over 25 trucks. Entry-level enterprises are at a cost disadvantage without market leaders. Truck turnaround time in India is less than 300 kilometers per day, compared to around 700 kilometers in Europe and the US.

Integrating the supply chain network: Integrating the network of the supply chain with supply chains can be made more flexible and agile with the use of platforms that combine processes.

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