As a consumer today, I seldom feel like I lack choice. For most of the things I want, I have abundant options. If I have a tough time deciding – I can go online, read some reviews, and make an informed decision in no time at all. And if I’m left wanting after the purchase, I can easily spread the word via social media.
All of this is another way of saying that in today’s economy, consumers have the upper hand. Consumer products companies who understand this reality are now focusing their energies on customer service.
At first blush, serving the end consumer may seem like an alien concept for consumer products companies. After all, isn’t consumer service the responsibility of the retailer? Not entirely – not anymore, anyway.
The question is this: What does good service even mean for consumer products companies who, for the most part, have lots of experience with “customer” service (i.e. to the retailer) but have little contact with end consumers? According to research conducted by IDC, it means two things most of all: enhancing the brand experience and improving fulfillment.
The brand experience is essentially a marketing play – with all the complexities involved in reaching out to end consumers and building relationships in an age of social media and expanding communication channels. It’s not an easy nut to crack. Consumer Products companies need to master a wide range of tools and strategies for managing the brand experience – and it’s the early adopters in each market segment who will be most effective.
Quality fulfillment, on the other hand, is more focused on operations. The goal here, to put it simply, is delivering the goods. Outages are bad — and the key metric is on-the-shelf availability. Few aspects of operations in the consumer products industry have more to do with maintaining consumer loyalty.
Let me provide a simple example. When I go to the grocery store, I tend to buy the same salsa. I’ve settled on a brand, it’s always been good, and I don’t really want to ponder things further when I’m busy shopping for food. A few weeks ago, I needed chips and salsa for the football game. At the grocery store, however, my usual brand was out of stock – so I went with another brand. Turns out this new brand is quite good – especially when mixed with some good guacamole. I haven’t needed to buy more salsa since then – but when I do, I think I’m going with the new brand.
All because my original brand was out of stock.
Metrics and lead times
For consumer products companies, such stories are hardly news. Which is why they increasingly see the value of a service-centric approach to fulfillment. But what exactly does this mean? Mostly it means better metrics and shorter lead-times. Both of these objectives require that the proper systems are in place. Improving on-the-shelf availability, for example, requires retailers to share point of sale data and other key metrics with consumer products companies – who then need systems capable of receiving and analyzing it in real-time. To compress lead-times, companies need logistics networks and inventory management strategies supported by systems that can optimize all associated activities – and even help organizations predict and recover from disruptions.
There’s a lot to learn – and just as with brand experience, early adopters will have an advantage.
To continue the conversation on supply chain and other topics in the consumer products industry, explore the Enabling the Consumer-Driven Enterprise Virtual Event for on-demand replays and much more!
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