Peter Jones, Managing Director of Prological, unpacks the vital – if largely hidden – role supply chain plays in shaping customer experience.
In a world where businesses so often chase ephemeral trends seeking the quickest win, Prological’s Peter Jones encourages us to look at the world through a more substantive lens.
Citing the words of Larry Culp, General Electric Global’s Chairman and CEO, Peter suggests focus should be geared towards permanence, long-term planning, and creating legacies worth inheriting. “When asked for advice on forging a successful life and career, Larry Culp’s was powerfully straightforward,” Peter says. “His first big idea was to be substantive in everything that you do – not temporary or superficial.”
Sadly, the “here and now” business approach too often favoured by too many means a focus on short-term victories; and temporary solutions that soon cause fresh problems in need of still more solutions.
“Businesses stuck in this vicious circle never truly perform at their peak because they are constantly making decisions that are only ever temporary fixes,” Peter says.
Contrast this with the Culp philosophy of “substance over the superficial”.
“Being substantive means leaving something worthy for the next generation to inherit, allowing them to start from a higher place and springboard further,” notes Peter. “Instead of chasing your tail with quick fix chasing after quick fix, you’re progressing and building towards something.”
Einstein is reported to have said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Peter puts it another way: “If you’re doing tomorrow what you were doing yesterday, you’re going backwards.” Continuous improvement is the key to success.
But substance and continuous improvement are meaningless terms without a defined end in mind, which is why Larry Culp cited “customer focus” as another cardinal rule for business success. “Please the customers, and you’ll retain them,” as Peter puts it.
This all sounds straightforward enough. Focus on substance, be proactive, build on past achievement, focus on the customer.
Yet for decades now businesses haven’t heeded this advice when it came to their supply chains, which have long been viewed as a simple, low-key, and relatively unimportant considerations compared to other business functions: the boring work of getting goods to consumers after the real work – of creating, manufacturing, and marketing – has been done.
Getting goods to consumers is manifestly important – you’re unlikely to be a satisfied customer if you never receive your purchase – but the way goods get from supplier to supplier, or business to consumer, plays an increasingly important role in separating the wheat from the chaff.
The point is easy to illustrate in B2C contexts, Peter says, where effective marketing and an engaging, while easy-to-navigate website can draw customers in. But there’ll be trouble, he warns, if the user experience – from the digital platform to the fulfillment process – doesn’t align with customer expectations.
“If the marketing and digital experience are excellent but the supply chain fails to deliver, it will be a problem because the first two experiences have set the customer’s expectations high,” Peter notes.
The stakes are even higher in the B2B landscape, he points out, as any lapse in delivery can disrupt production lines and have far-reaching knock-on consequences. “If a supplier fails to deliver on time, it can disrupt entire production lines (manufacturing) or soil management (agriculture) or seasonal release (fashion retail) or empty shelves (grocery) – and each of these have enormous consequences within their respective sectors.”
TRANSPARENCY, TRUST, AND ETHICS
Transparency, trust, and ethics in the supply chain have been subjects of growing interest, especially as consumers become more discerning about their purchases. These factors influence brand perception not only in that they may influence whether a person buys a product, but how satisfied they are with the purchases they’ve already made.
“I haven’t personally seen a major fall-off in customer satisfaction because of an ethics or transparency issue, but we have talked quite a lot to businesses about the consequences of not being on top of these issues and what could happen if they’re caught lacking,” Peter says. “It’s a serious issue – and you wouldn’t want to test breaching your customers’ trust with a supply chain ethics or transparency blunder.”
“For 2023 through 2025, supply chain visibility was rated as the second most important factor according to Prological’s recent Supply Chain Pulse Check Survey, just behind environmental alignment, that businesses are trying to improve,” he notes.
Visibility has a clear link to customer satisfaction in that customers increasingly want clarity on how they get their goods, but another reason companies are prioritising visibility is that it allows for better control and decision making.
“Visibility provides control,” Peter says. “If you can see what’s happening, you’re empowered to make decisions. And while visibility has theoretically been on the agenda for decades, today the technology is readily available to make it attainable.”
“Visibility will be very important for ensuring customer satisfaction moving forward because it exposes issues early, enabling pre-emptive action and mitigating potential fallout. A lack of visibility leaves businesses stumbling in the dark.”
While it’s clear that enhancing supply chain visibility has substantial benefits both internally and for the end-customer, Peter acknowledges the reluctance of many businesses to open up their inner workings for scrutiny.
“I’ve been in many meetings where the executive team has expressed concern about exposing the internal capability of the business.”
To move forward with improved transparency, businesses must first ensure their operations are well-organised. Without this foundational step, Peter cautions that increased visibility might – paradoxically – undermine trust, by highlighting gaps between stakeholder expectations and the realities of business performance.
“Businesses need to be careful and make sure they’ve done the preliminary work before improving transparency. You could actually amplify distrust if you put on display to stakeholders the discrepancies between what they expect and what your business can actually deliver.”
A part of this process of preparation involves updating and improving internal systems.
“To embark on this journey, businesses must have their internal visibility working – from forecast to inventory on hand – which requires integration and performance from existing systems and people as the first requirement,” Peter advises.
“Visibility can either help a business own its customer or show a customer why they ought look elsewhere. Visibility can enhance trust if the business delivers on its promises consistently. Providing visibility reinforces the positive customer experience they have already received.”
In the quest for better customer experience, businesses must focus on enhancing their supply chain efficiencies, improving transparency, and maintaining ethical standards. However, these changes should not be rushed.
“They require a well-planned, methodical approach, to ensure your business is primed to meet your customer’s expectations and sustain long-term success.
“Be substantive, leave a legacy worth inheriting and please the customer – simple!”
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