Your supply chain can really transform your CX and delight your customers. Source: Shutterstock

Transforming customer experience with your supply chain

SUPPLY CHAINS capture a lot of data, can leverage new and emerging technologies like blockchain and IoT, and as a result, can create synergies that transform the customer experience.

However, businesses are struggling to see the benefits of transforming their supply chain with technology.

Often, the quantum of investment required and the huge effort required for such a project deter managers who have other projects at hand – that can deliver small benefits but quickly.

In an exclusive interview with Tech Wire Asia, Bernard Solomon, Head of Applications, Malaysia & Head of Human Capital Management (HCM) Applications, ASEAN discusses how the supply chain can transform the customer experience.

How does the supply chain affect the customer experience?

There’s no place as exciting as Asia, where the online consumer base grew by 50 percent: A definite trend toward further individualization and customization, online-enabled transparency, and easy access to a multitude of options regarding where to shop and what to buy, drive the competition.

With this, customer experience extends into delivery, fulfillment, returns or repairs and if this is not well executed, consumers quickly move on to a competing brand or a competing on-line platform.

A superior supply chain practice is core to delivering great customer experiences and the operational transparency linked to customer interactions for a seamless and dynamic brand experience.

However, the transformational impact of supply chain processes on the customer experience is built based on a customer-first, personalized proposition.

Customer-centric supply chain initiatives create and protect brand value by enabling experiences that are co-created with customers and orchestrated across all supply chain partners.

For example, customer usage data and reviews can be mined for insights that can help enhance future iterations of a product.

Similarly, IoT can link and integrate supply chain operations from suppliers through to customers, with decisions on cost, inventory, and customer service made from an end-to-end perspective jump-start performance, and customer satisfaction

How are legacy supply chain models hindering businesses attempts to enhance customer experiences?

The main challenge is the lack of understanding of a comprehensive view of how performance standards are changing and what customers really want.

The barrier is siloed data and processes. These silos have existed within organizations because of historical business models– say between the manufacturing, distribution, sales, and fulfillment – and between supply chain partners.

Customer-centric businesses of tomorrow, or rather today means securely opening parts of the business, internally and externally, to encourage collaboration ecosystems.

These, in turn, drive new customer-first business models. Organisations that maintain siloed business functions will struggle or perhaps cease to exist for not being able to collaborate effectively losing out to agile competitors and new market entrants.

Agility is an important factor. Organisations with slow and unwieldy business processes and supply chain operations are less able to react quickly to market trends or get new products out to market ahead of competitors.

Businesses today need to be agile by design and able to react immediately to market opportunities. That means having a flexible supply chain that can be endlessly reshaped.

How can supply chain modernization help?

Supply chain modernization knocks down business silos and increases supply chain transparency to ensure operations are agile and open to collaboration.

Modernisation also helps the organization identify customer needs and drive better experiences.

It’s all about creating a seamless innovation ecosystem, fuelled by data and focused on the customer.

What are the key technologies businesses need to use to modernize their supply chains?

 There is a growing range of emerging technologies that will help drive supply chain modernization.

These include IoT devices to gather data from across manufacturing, supply chain operations and even post-sales through the products themselves.

This data needs to be combined with other corporate and third-party data and then turned into meaningful insights through advanced analytics.

Today, analysis is frequently augmented by AI to reduce time-to-insight and find hidden patterns that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

Blockchain will also become increasingly important as a means of creating a secure ledger of all supply chain transactions.

However, the key enabling technology is the cloud as the platform with Software-as-a-Service for supply chain operations as the core, which makes it easier for companies to interact with a global supply chain in an economical way.

The cloud enables the seamless and secure integration of corporate, customer and supply chain data for analysis by an approved business or supply chain partner.

As such, the cloud is the perfect platform for collaboration. Additionally, the cloud enables agility to incorporate new business models.

Resources can be dynamically scaled up or down as the market demands and new concepts rapidly trialed and then scaled up if successful.

It also allows businesses to cost-effectively trial emerging technologies at low risk, so they can ensure their supply chain is always at the cutting-edge.

You talk about the need to better integrate the front and back offices – why is this important?

A lot of investment in customer experience improvement is taking place in the front-office – whether that’s new customer-facing apps like chatbots or voice enabled systems, or apps to enhance employee productivity.

However, if the back-office isn’t agile enough, or sufficiently integrated with these apps, the latter won’t work as well as they could.

Just like a Ferrari won’t run efficiently with a bad engine, customer experiences will fail to meet expectations without a data-driven, integrated back-office.

In fact, we need to forget about the false split between back- and front-office and think instead of one seamless enterprise and one seamless customer experience.

What do businesses need to do to ensure the front and back offices can integrate seamlessly?

It’s all about data integration. Businesses need to leverage the cloud to ensure back-office operations and supply chain processes are fuelled by high-quality, abundant data that links bi-laterally with front-office apps.

This means creating data lakes in the cloud, so all enterprise apps can seamlessly access the same high-quality data.

What is happening in the Asian market in general for supply chain management – how does it compare globally?

In addition to its scale and hyperactivity, what makes this region particularly compelling is that winning here can position companies for exponential growth.

As a region, Asia is primed for supply chain disruption to take off. Asia is also highly diverse.

Flexibility and adaptability are more important here than precision.

The right combination of logistics and e-commerce companies in the region means the expertise required to innovate – and therefore bring all kinds of disruption mainstream – is already here.