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The Last Mile is the Last Word

By Chris Jones | 06/14/2013 | 2:35 PM

There is a lot of emphasis in retail on customer experience on the web or in- store, but the “rubber meets the road” for customer experience during the delivery process. It’s the last thing the customers remember about their shopping experience. There is nothing like a personal experience to drive home this point. In my case, it’s about a really bad home delivery experience, but for the folks reading this post it could be about ANY bad delivery experience. Here’s the story.

My wife bought an appliance from an unnamed leading retailer. As part of the purchase, the retailer was supposed to deliver the appliance on a specific day, uncrate it, put it in a specific location in our house and plug it in to make sure it worked. Well, the retailer’s third-party delivery agent didn’t show up on the desired date, dropped off the appliance on pallet in the middle of my garage, told my college-age son they were not responsible for the installation, and left.

You have to know my wife to know that she wasn’t going to accept that kind of poor performance for one second. She called the retailer and complained. The delivery agent was then instructed to finish the job. After they failed twice to show up as promised, my wife called the delivery agent and complained. The comment from the delivery agent was “well, the driver can’t find the product to deliver” – we already had it, and “there was no ‘paperwork’ to authorize them to come and finish the job”. So, she called the store manager and complained vehemently. He said he would pay us $300 to do it ourselves – we said no, and then he had 2 store employees come to our house and spend 5 minutes installing the appliance and testing it. This whole saga played out over a week. This was a national retailer and the third party agent is one of the larger ones specializing in home delivery.

Do you think my wife will buy another appliance from this retailer? Not a chance. Considering that we are about to tear apart our kitchen, these folks just lost $1,000s in revenue. So how did this all go so wrong? This retailer is still treating home delivery as a necessary evil, the delivery agent isn’t adequately training its people and neither is using technology to enforce the right processes and desired behavior.

I work with many of the retailers around the globe on home delivery and the winners take full ownership of the delivery whether they have their own fleet or outsource their delivery. This means that, as a retailer, you need to have proof-of-delivery and post-delivery processes and supporting technology to ensure the job you expected gets done and to the level you expected. For example, where were the pictures that showed the unit was delivered and installed? Where was the call-out, text or email after the delivery that asked us if the installation was to our satisfaction? I could just go on and on about what was missing in this case.

In addition, retailers need to integrate their fulfillment systems with the delivery agent and the ownership of the delivery process needs to be seamless. There should have been clear instructions on the installation as part of the delivery manifest and then, when it doesn’t happen correctly, provide feedback on what to go back and complete. In this case, the third party agent had no clue what to do every time and then threw it back to the retailer. Where was the accountability? What is in the contract to enforce quality work? It was pretty obvious that this retailer shopped for the lowest cost delivery agent, didn’t put any rigor into the agent’s processes or capabilities, nor invest in technology and integration to make this look like “one company”.

Similarly, home delivery agents need to invest in the processes, technology and people to support their operations. Home delivery agents are supposed to be the experts. That’s why retailers hire them. There is no reason not to offer the same technology I mention above to your retail customers. Who better to provide the best-in-class processes to retailers because of your experience working across multiple retailers? Most importantly, don’t go cheap on the drivers you hire, and make sure train them and provide a career path. These folks are the real value creators in your business. Retailers - it’s really easy to tell if your agent actually takes this point seriously - just look at their driver turnover rate.

With all the energy retailers put in attracting customers like my wife, why do they waste the opportunity to have her be a customer for life by failing to grasp the significance of the delivery and installation? What is clear is that price is no longer the differentiator? I just got back from the UK where this is playing out much faster than North America. John Lewis Partnership, probably one of world’s best retailers in terms of home delivery innovation, had 13% growth in 2013 while the rest of the UK market went backward by 6%. Their customer loyalty is legendary. I heard the same story from one of the leading office supply companies in North America. Delivery is their top rated customer experience and their financial results are strong. You figure it out. This lesson can apply to any industry.

How is your company excelling during the delivery process or do you have any real horror stories from which we can learn? Just let me know.

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