In an increasingly cut-throat operating environment, many businesses are focussing on their logistics as a means of enhancing their competitiveness and ensuring that customers continue to trust them and remain loyal.
What do we mean by smart, or intelligent logistics, and how can a business harness the latest advances to improve efficiency, reduce costs and strengthen customer ties?
Let’s look in turn at each of the three key components that affect customer satisfaction: inventory management, transportation systems, and order management.
A major challenge for business owners who run manufacturing, transportation, or logistics company, is keeping track of where everything is and how much there is of each thing.
Add the challenge of responding to constantly evolving and changing customer needs, and a tremendous amount of time and money can be wasted.
Over the last few years, the situation has been transformed. Sensors, bar code readers, and automatic ID equipment, using IoT (Internet of Things) technology are already established as key tools for smart logistics.
Inventory management is far more intelligent, as it becomes possible to forecast demand for particular items, and stock transfers can be automated.
Inventory costs can be calculated more efficiently and accurately, not just in terms of ordering and transport, but also in terms of the potential financial impact of shortages. Overall, far more real-time data becomes available, which has revolutionized management decision-making.
Also, any intelligent WMS (warehouse management system) will allow you to optimize the layout of your warehouse to minimize waste of time and costs and enable you to respond more efficiently to customer requests.
Whether you’re operating a mega warehouse filled with thousands of different items, or storing items manufactured in-house, AGVs (automated guided vehicles), are transforming the storage and retrieval processes.
Self-guided forklift and pallet trucks use the digital route to optimize the loading and unloading of containers of any size. And while they’re doing this, they can also perform a stocktake, so you’ll know at any given moment, what’s on your shelves and what’s already left your warehouse.
What is the impact of this smart technology on the customers? The days when ‘5 working days’ was an acceptable time for dispatch are long gone. Retail customers want things now, yes, right now!
B-2-B customers rely on accurate real-time data to enable them to plan their operations and, in turn, communicate with their customers. They need to know they can rely on you to have the items they need in stock, and they expect to be able to track the progress of their orders at any given moment.
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The old days when goods were loaded onto a truck which would arrive at a customer’s premises as and when are long gone.
Whether you’ve recently purchased your own fleet of heavy-duty haulage trucks from an International dealer, or you outsource your deliveries to a third-party logistics provider, smart technology is changing the interface between the parties involved in the ordering and delivery process.
Predictive analytics, often using telematics, make sure that time in transit is visible- and this can often influence a customer’s decision to purchase.
Sensors in the vehicle (tracks, ships, or even trains) use multiple data sources to estimate arrival time.
Also, AI-enabled sensors can track the route of a shipment, from the moment of departure to the final unloading, sending regular tracking reports along the way.
These reports can include any evidence of tampering with the goods, or theft, as well as deviations from the scheduled route. In areas where hijacking, contraband, or even people smuggling could be a risk, these sensors would swiftly alert the carrier of a potential problem, and the necessary action could be taken.
AI-enabled sensors won’t only detect crime, though. They can also monitor storage conditions inside a container to increase, for example, food safety.
Customers know that hazard analysis is carried out and critical control points are monitored during the production process. But what about during transportation?
What if the refrigeration system is faulty? How could a driver know? Smart technology can monitor temperature, and send data to the shipper, ensuring safety regulations are adhered to and increasing product safety and customer confidence.
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In the end, customer relationship always comes down to your ability to anticipate and respond to your customer’s needs.
Once you’re using intelligent systems to optimize your warehousing operation, and your physical deliveries, the final and vital piece of the puzzle is how you manage your interactions with those you are in business to serve.
The introduction of smart technologies allows a logistics company to better understand the requirements of a specific customer, and to communicate with them regarding the delivery of their order.
Estimated arrival times, as well as any problems, can be anticipated by the AI system or picked up as they arise.
This enables you to ensure the customer is not only aware of the situation but can also be involved in identifying the solution that works best for them in the circumstances. This may be to accept a longer delivery time, to amend the order, or even to cancel on this occasion.
The most important factor is that your customer knows that you are prioritizing their needs, and are managing the situation intelligently to find a solution
What is critically important at this stage as well as the pre-dispatch stage, is that the customer can communicate any changing requirements to you, as their priorities evolve, and that you can inform them of any implications in terms of price and delivery schedules.
A flexible and accurate response to changing needs will again, develop trust and confidence in your company as a reliable solutions provider which genuinely understands their needs, rather than an inflexible dispatcher of orders.
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Over the past few years, smart technology and Artificial Intelligence have transformed the way companies handle their logistics.
These changes have had dramatic implications for the way customer relationships are built and maintained. It is therefore essential that these tools are used to facilitate open, real-time, and transparent communication.
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