When Gartner conducts its annual Supply Chain Technology User Wants and Needs Survey, we ask respondents to state their top three external challenges that affect their organization’s supply chain goals and objectives. One of the top spots: Customer priorities, demands, and expectations.

The fact that the wellbeing of the customer is one of the key priorities of supply chain executives might seem unusual at first, but when you look at the numbers – especially in transportation – it makes sense. Amid drums of economic recession, transportation volumes have decreased or decelerated. Organizations are looking for ways to stand out and remain enticing to their customers. An improved customer experience (CX) in transportation is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Gartner defines customer experience as the practice of designing and reacting to customer interactions to meet or exceed customer expectations and, thus, increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. The B2C sector has been a pioneer in this field – but B2B also is now considering workers of other organizations as consumers. B2B organizations and their supply chains already started to mirror the simplified and user-friendly processes that we know from online marketplaces or travel sites

The increase in e-commerce has been one key factor in the rise of the importance of customer experience in transportation technology. Company workers are also B2C consumers in their free time and will naturally compare their experiences with the processes they follow at work and outside the workplace. And while e-commerce brings simplicity and convenience to consumers when accessing an almost infinite range of items and options, it also adds complexity and constraints to global supply chains. Some of us still remember the early days of e-commerce when it was common and accepted to wait a week or even longer for goods to be delivered. Those times are over. Today, some retailers offer same-day delivery among other options, expanding the available shipping options as consumers now want to have a say in when their goods are being delivered.

Apart from lead times, there are many other transportation factors that influence the CX, e.g. poor visibility when tracking a shipment, difficulties on communicating changes on the delivery, or a complicated return process.

When you consider all these factors, another finding of the survey comes as no surprise. Supply chain leaders have identified customer expectations or demands as one of the top three reasons to invest in supply chain technology.

To improve CX in transportation, decision makers should look at four key areas:

Analytics & predictive capabilities: There are several transportation technology vendors that aim to provide more accurate lead times by using artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze data from a variety of sources: satellite images, traffic data, weather information, and historical and social media data. There are also efforts to predict and estimate lead times in online purchases by analyzing the customer selection before the check-out stage. Those insights provide shippers with new options to leverage when interacting with their customers. They can, for example, provide a more accurate delivery time window to help prioritize tasks, prepare for receiving the cargo, or indicate which carriers perform better in certain areas or conditions to ensure the best level of service.

Shipment visibility and proactive communication: A lot of customers waiting for their delivery are already more satisfied when they know that it’s on its way. Applications such as transport management systems or vehicle routing and scheduling applications can leverage data from real-time visibility providers or the telematic devices that are already installed on most commercial cargo vehicles and always know the exact location of the cargo. This, in combination with geofencing capabilities, allows organizations to send personalized notifications with real-time data based on driver proximity. Customers can either check the location of their delivery via an app or receive personalized notifications. This gives them a sense of control and they will have a better CX, even when the delivery is late.

Engagement options: Promoting engagement with the recipient of the cargo can help increase CX in transportation. Applications allowing customers to rate their delivery experience can provide valuable insights to help organizations improve service levels. Also, giving delivery options like the possibility to redirect a delivery already in transit or to select a specific delivery time window offers convenience to consumers and can translate into a large bump in CX. They can change their plans without worrying about their parcel – which is sometimes more important than a fast delivery.

Simple return policies: A clear and structured reverse logistic and return management process is key to increase CX in this area. The goal is to make the return as easy as possible for the consumer. Some technology providers include the return label in their shipment, others provide access to web portals to process and track the returns or offer drop-off locations. Capabilities like this not only increase the CX during the return process but also facilitate and digitize the return process of the goods for the retailer.

With e-commerce, mobile shopping, and customer returns on the rise, transportation technology is starting to play a crucial role in providing more CX to customers in an effective and economic way.

Oscar Sanchez Duran is Senior Principal Analyst, Gartner.