And all through the distribution center, elves were frantically picking, packing, and shipping. Yes, frantically! The peak season is a trial-by-fire of the procedures and processes you have implemented to handle the onslaught of this season. If you were to give yourself a grade for this year, what would it be? On a scale of one to five, would you get a top score? Unfortunately, many would likely be closer to one, especially if you were to close the loop and take into consideration the consumers’ experiences. Oftentimes, the distribution center stops accountability as soon as that package leaves the door. Whether the package was picked/packed or shipped correctly requires a holistic review of the entire process.
For a person who has been in the supply chain for a number of years, the holiday shipping season makes me cringe. Too often, I find myself thinking, “how did they get this wrong?” This is especially true when orders come from name brands that I have worked with in the past; my mind immediately jumps to, “What happened?”
Already this quarter, below are some real-life examples of supply chain gone wrong.
1. I ordered a video game for one of the people on my list, the order was confirmed, so, so far so good, right? Within a week, I receive it in a padded envelope. Excellent! Except… two weeks later, I get another one from the UK. Most consumers don’t think about the cost to the company. On the other hand, I not only think about the cost to the company, but also wonder what broke in their system to get a duplicate sent internationally. Plus, if it happened to me, how many more times is this happening throughout this company’s well known supply chain?
2. I ordered some toys (seven total) from another popular company. I received free shipping because my total purchase was over $75. Not only did all seven toys come in separate boxes, but the dimensioning of the container was a joke. One very small item (Minnie Mouse earrings) was sent alone in a box that was 12 x 8 x 8 with no dunnage. This popular retailer is matching others’ prices, so the margin on the items is not huge. As a consultant doing the numbers, it appears that surely the profitability of this order was in the red. Then the mind goes to…how many times does this happen?
3. I ordered an expensive item, only one. I received three. In an effort to return the two sent by mistake, I was told by customer service that their system does not allow them to return more than the one and to just keep the other one. Did I mention it was expensive? After asking the customer service lady how often this happens, she explained, “Often, and I’m not sure why they don’t fix it.” Are you picturing my head spinning? You’d be correct.
4. I ordered a picture book. It was delivered by USPS and didn’t fit in the mailbox so they left it at the door, that was not covered by a porch, on a rainy day. Needless to say, it was destroyed.
5. A popular toy ordered for one of the littles in the house arrived with a label slapped on the toy and in no unmarked box. Not only did it spoil the Christmas surprise, but I then had to explain the difficult fact that they must still wait for Christmas to use it.
These are just a few of the blunders we have made in the supply chain. There are more, but my point is obvious. We can do better! It begs the question, who is keeping an eye on the customer experience, or are we in such a hurry to just get it out the door (even though it’s incorrect)? We know better, your team knows better, so what failed? Doing a post-season audit of the supply chain holistically is a lot of work, but you only know that you have made these mistakes if you do such an audit. The old saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” is so accurate when you talk about the “true” customer service in the supply chain. There were delivery mistakes made by FedX, UPS, and USPS. There were retailer mistakes from very well-known companies, enough to make one ask, “Who’s watching the store (aka supply chain)?”
Some may say that it's just Christmas and not a huge deal (except, of course, if you are in the pharma business and you are shipping out life-critical products!). Yes, mistakes happen, but if we are just fixing the issue instead of going back and finding out what caused the problem, it will continue to happen. And what will those mistakes do to customer satisfaction and your company’s bottom line? The best supply chains will review and audit and go all the way back to the root cause and fix those issues so the inherent problem does not re-occur. On the bright side, there were some shippers that did an excellent job, which was refreshing! Happy shipping and I wish you all the best discovering all the ways that next season can be even better!
Susan Rider, President, Rider & Associates, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2022 issue of PARCEL.