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How partnerships through the supply chain can make – or break – the customer promise

How can you be sure your suppliers and partners will match your brand’s values and deliver on your customer promise? If a partner fails to deliver on expectations, customers can be unforgiving.

It’s not only product and price that companies must compete on, but customer service as well. In today’s customer led environment, many organizations are seeking competitive advantage by creating entire eco-systems of technologies, partners across their sophisticated supply chain and delivery management to meet their customer demands.

But if a partner fails to meet expectations, customers are inevitably let down. A below-standard experience can have lingering effects. Research shows that 24 percent of customers continued to seek out companies two or more years after a good experience, while 39 percent continued to avoid those brands which delivered a bad one1.

Essentially, a bad experience could mean that a long term customer relationship is over. Organizations who therefore ignore the influence of their full end to end supply chain experience, including partnerships, do so at their own peril. 

Customers will always believe they are dealing directly with one company even if the reality is that a particular transaction or interaction is undertaken by a partner business or indeed an ecosystem of partners. They have no interest in who is responsible for different parts of the supply chain. From their perspective, they are purchasing your product from your company or communicating with your employees – and they will hold you accountable for any mishaps along the way.

Whether it’s late delivery, receipt of an irrelevant or insensitive advertisement or even an allergen making its way to a catered food product, it could spell disaster for the customer relationship. Few companies can exist in isolation, which makes ‘choosing your partnerships carefully’ essential to the future success of every business.

Great customer experience relies on a company’s ability to connect with the right partners behind-the-scenes and throughout the supply chain. The ‘right’ partner might not always be the most cost-effective, but one that aligns to the customer and business outcomes as much as your brand itself.

Some fast fashion retailers align customer needs with their end-to-end operational strategy. For retailers, the most loyal customers typically account for 80% of sales.2 These retailers understand that experience matters as much as product in the mind of the shopper and so have established responsive production models that cultivate loyal customer connections3. Short lead times and a small batch delivery system allow super-fast reaction to new trends, production and delivery. By selecting the right partners, they make fast-fashion available in the quantity, format and time that suit their customers. Managing the supply chain around this customer promise allows these retailers to deliver a great experience that builds loyalty and grows sales.

Enabling easy product returns is another such example. Developments in e-commerce have invigorated online retailers to overhaul delivery systems to build and enhance multi-supplier relationships, as expectation of easy returns has become a major focus and cost, and as much part of the customer experience as fast delivery. Rather than blaming chosen partners for any issues that may occur, we see the most successful businesses taking ownership of the customer experience as a whole, working with their suppliers to reach desired outcomes. Businesses and partners need their end-to-end service centers to work in tandem, dealing with complaints effectively when they come through. This is where brand values truly shine through.

Businesses succeed by investing in partners who help meet their customers’ expectations. Those with high-performing supply chains more often than not achieve revenue growth superior to the average within their industries4.

But as well as the financial incentive to serve customers, good partner engagement can make a difference to how well those customers are served. Tight contractual arrangements can stifle collaboration and openness, and limit the company’s ability to influence customer experience from the far end. A more engaged partner is more responsive to efforts to improve processes and quickly resolve problems.

Companies must also recognize the need for consistency across their entire ecosystem. This consistent organizational behavior in turn demonstrates trustworthiness – and customers are more likely to interact with brands they can trust to deliver a pain-free customer experience.

Being ‘customer-obsessed’ can provide a good decision-making framework for selecting partners. Successful companies recognize the need to invest not only in tools that deliver great customer experiences today, but also in partners who help them deliver value to customers that they cannot provide on their own, as well as stay true to the brand promise.

Read the Global Customer Experience Excellence report to find out why trusted partnerships matter in today’s customer experience [add hyperlink].