Supply chains that primarily focus on customer experience, rather than efficiency, will create better overall outcomes.

To most people, supply chains are invisible. They don’t think about the long and winding path that turned raw materials into a brand new pair of sneakers. They don’t think about the complicated, intercontinental logistics efforts that unfolded to not only get that pair of shoes made, but to have them waiting on the customer’s doorstep less than 48 hours after they clicked “Buy Now”. 

Like a sheet of perfectly clean glass, they don’t notice the supply chain. They’re looking at the shiny products and services behind the windowpane. Unless, of course, the glass cracks.

Supply chain challenges directly affect CX 

This is already shaping up to be a complex year for supply chains. Even in contrast to the past four years being overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2024 is presenting new challenges. Gartner analysts argue that, “mounting backorders, low inventory, increased prices and delayed shipments plague supply chains and threaten customer loss.” 

Whether delivering sneakers, software, or specialised aerospace parts, Supply chains are all enablers of customer experience. 

According to Gartner, a drop over time in the quality of supply chain performance is nearly three times as likely to harm customer loyalty than a rise in price. Supply chain performance can make or break customer experience (CX) and can undermine customer loyalty.

Traditionally, supply chain operators have had an undersized awareness of their impact on the end customer experience. “Supply chain performance plays a key role in whether a customer is likely to repurchase, and services and offerings should be designed around customer enablement,” Gartner notes. 

Taking a customer-centric approach to supply chain management 

One of the core reasons why supply chains feel more disconnected from customer experience than they actually are is because supply chain decision makers frequently aren’t included in the CX conversations that take place in other parts of the business. 

Supply chain leaders need to “improve their connection with other functions and use technology to solidify and scale the interactions required to deliver the designed CX,” argues Michael Dominy, a Research VP in Gartner’s CSCO Strategies and Planning team. Supply chain leaders need to leverage a combination of empathy backed by soft skills and technology. Successfully implementing this can create increased utility and ease for the customer. No only that, but supply chain leaders can meaningfully place CX at the core of their operational model, rather than approaching it as an afterthought or additional benefit of a job well done. 

This is done by putting the customer at the centre of each relationship stage, harnessing customer insights to govern the two-way relationship between customer and company, and then harnessing those insights to deliver improved CX across the organisation.

By identifying the stages where the supply chain has the most impact on customer experience—including commitment to a purchase and recovery from disruption—supply chain leaders can iterate and improve the processes that improve customer experience. Most importantly, they can do this with customer experience at the top of their mind. 

Dominy observes that “getting the right product to the right place at the right time isn’t enough. The customer’s experience with your company is more involved than taking and fulfilling orders. And supply chain’s role is larger than most think.”

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