In business, logistics matter to customers.
“But aren’t logistics invisible to consumers?”
Far from it. Customers clearly see the result of the final phase: inventory. Either the goods that customers want are on the shelves. Or, they’re not.
And if they’re not, consumers don’t really care why (whether the glitch was in handling, transportation, storage or delivery.) What customers do really care about is whether they can get the goods they want, at the price they want, at the time they want. If they can’t customers take their business elsewhere. Ouch.
But logistics — at least the concept of them — don’t apply to just goods. The notion of logistics pertains to mobile sites, social media tools and apps. Glitches that prevent social tools from being easy and convenient also undermine business, sales and customer loyalty.
The Customer View
The cost of logistics matters to the company. The results of logistics matter to consumers — and social tools and apps are no exception to this rule. Problems within a virtual, or social, supply chain — a totally new concept — might be harder to find and fix than flaws in a traditional logistics system.
Still, businesses need to assess their social media strategy, tools and apps to make sure their digitally based logistics are creating happy customers.
One foolproof way to check is to view the process from a consumer’s view. Here’s an example…
When it comes to grocery shopping, all of my business goes to this Giant Eagle. The service is amazing. (When a question arose about a birthday cake I had ordered, and my phone number had been taken down with an extra digit, the store’s event planning manager Googled me to find a way to contact me and clear up the cake query!) It’s not just me, either. Customers have plastered compliments about this particular store on Yelp.
It’s one of a large chain of grocery stores, and the company’s website has many tools that make it easy for busy people to shop and to save. (I have no commercial or financial affiliation with Giant Eagle.)
On the Giant Eagle website, customers can create, name and save different shopping lists. The lists can be easily organized in various ways. I like the option of grouping items by product category, such as produce, dairy and so on. It prevents time-draining backtracking around the store, which inevitably happens with my steam-of-consciousness handwritten lists.
The benefits of the functionality and tools on the website are truly customer focused and intuitive.
- The electronic lists have room beside each item to indicate a quantity and to type in a short note.
- Special deals — which show up in the company’s weekly printed ad — also appear on its website.
- Viewers can customize the view settings and group sale items by category, or they can show more items at a time.
- And a quick click will add any of those sale items directly to the shopping list selected.
Among other clever tricks, the website also lets customers easily load electronic coupons onto a store loyalty card, swiped at the checkout.
…But Logistics Glitch
I used to print the list, though, wasting paper and abruptly ending my smooth digital experience as a shopper. I didn’t know there was a mobile app — until recently.
So, this Saturday, I downloaded the app to my iPad and iPhone. And it successfully downloaded my grocery list to my devices.
I liked the way I could tick a box next to an item, which zipped it, crossed out, to the bottom of the list.
(I hadn’t taken the time to look at reviews of the app, which received really low ratings by others.)
Once in the store, I opened my iPad to try to access the app and the list. Hmm. Emphasis on “try.”
No Internet access. I couldn’t get my digital list. Bummer.
No printed list as a back up. Double bummer.
I used the app with my iPhone. But, because that screen is much smaller than my iPad’s screen, I had to stop after each item and squint as I tried to read the next thing. I felt like one of those people who blocks traffic by stopping, randomly and frequently, to answer a text or read an email — I was one of those people! I’ll never use the app on my phone again.
Smooth the Social Supply Chain
I showed a manager in the store the app and told him about the Wi-Fi access problem. He didn’t know about the app, the functionality of the company’s website or the impact the store’s locked Wi-Fi was having on tools that could, instead, draw customers and increase sales. I suggested that, once they gave customers Internet access inside the store, they could promote the app and the website’s features, too. He took notes and thanked me. We’ll see if it stays locked.
Meantime, it’s just a small example of the logistics challenges created by rapid advancements in digital and social tools. Creating fabulous mobile sites, functionality, tools and apps is great. But it’s not enough. To really rock social media, a brand must also digitally deliver at each step.
Otherwise, it sours the experience for customers who had been set up to expect better by cool tools and apps. It’s analogous to scantily stocked shelves, in my mind: In both cases, logistics fails the end user. And that’s not just bad news for customers. Inevitably, it hurts sales, too.
When businesses make things convenient for customers, they’re much more likely to keep and attract them. Bottom line? If a brand is going to build hi-tech social apps for customers, it also has to make sure the social supply chain is smooth.