A digital approach to network disruption management

More than £7 billion was predicted to have been spent during Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year in the UK.

Written by Jeremy DexterDecember 7th 2018

A staggering number that’s driven by the convenience of online shopping via smartphones and other connected devices. With these key retail dates combining with the Christmas period, every November and December, hundreds of millions of parcels are in transit.

The trend of online shopping shows no sign of slowing down, with one in every five pounds now spent online. Despite this, the two most popular ways that online orders are fulfilled remain unoptimised, risking a poor customer experience that affects future spend.

The most prevalent method of online shopping fulfilment is ordering to a defined address, which sounds simple enough, but yet two-thirds of shopper’s report that they suffer issues with their deliveries. The second method, which many retailers have put into place, is Click & Collect. While consumers love the service for its simplicity, 43% of shoppers experience problems when using Click and Collect, such as having to wait too long before the item is delivered to store.

The fact is that there will always be problems with order fulfilment: traffic and bad weather delay couriers, customers aren’t at home to answer the door, customers don’t turn up to collect their orders from in-store, etc. How retailers and their logistic partners manage and resolve such disruptions in the customer journey will become an essential part of creating a differentiated retail brand experience.

Known as network disruption management, forward-thinking retailers are working to integrate digital solutions into the customer journey to help. They have recognised that they have systems and automated processes in place for positive customer experiences, but struggle to automate the resolution of negative customer experiences, like an unsuccessful delivery attempt.

With the trend of online delivery expected to double by 2025, and Click and Collect expected to grow at twice the rate of online delivery, network disruption management is an essential part of automating the end-to-end retail customer journey.

Network disruption management – breaking down the digital process

We’ve used our experience of helping leading retailers and logistic companies, like Hermes, whom we are helping to implement its ‘Digital Futures’ program, to break down the process of automated network disruption management into three stages:

1. Proactive steps to stop disruption

Disruption is sometimes unavoidable, but it’s important to integrate proactive steps into the customer journey that help to mitigate the risk.

The first step is to design a seamless customer journey that can help avoid potential disruption before an order has even been confirmed. For example, to help reduce customer no-shows, it could be as simple as adding a checkout option which allows customers to request a specific delivery window or allow customers to add a delivery note to say where there is a ‘safe place’ for a parcel to be left if nobody’s home.

The second proactive step is automating the delivery of proactive communications across two-way communication channels, such as Apple Business Chat, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. The communication over these channels could be as simple as confirming customer details or providing personalised 'order now' warnings before upcoming busy shopping periods. With Click and Collect growing in popularity, these communications could be updating customers that a closer Click and Collect store has become available near them.

2. Conversational updates help to resolve disruption in real-time

The second stage is managing the disruption when it happens and deploying a number of solutions to help resolve the situation.

Let’s imagine that a courier has been delayed due to bad traffic and will miss the allocated delivery time. This delay, either fed back to the business via the driver or through tracking of the delivery vehicle, automatically triggers an update to a customer, warning of the delay. Although simple at first, keeping the customer informed is essential, because there is nothing worse than being left to wonder where an order is - a recent survey found that nearly three-quarters of consumers want the ability to track their orders from point of purchase to their front door.

After the initial message informing the customer of the disruption, a chatbot powered by a mix of NLP and rule-based routing can be used to manage inbound customer responses and keep them updated on the situation and expected delivery time. This chatbot approach can be used to extend the options to help the customer to manage the disruption. The customer knows they won’t be home for the delivery time now it’s been delayed, they can use the chatbot to rearrange the delivery date, provide a safe place alternative drop off point, or even select a store they can collect from.

For a Click and Collect interaction, real-time updates include automating the delivery of communications that inform the customer when an item is ready for pickup, where the collection point is located in-store, or give an updated collection time if an item has been delayed. On the customer side, if they fail to pick up an item, a final reminder can be delivered with the option to organise delivery to a home address for an extra charge.

These types of communications will help keep the customer up to date and resolve the disruption. However, a must-have capability when employing a 2-way messaging-based service is to have the ability to connect an agent into the conversation via the same channel being used to engage with the customer as and when needed.

3. Automating the returns process – essential to the online CX experience

The online returns processes can be a time-consuming and painful experience for both the customer and retailer. Automating the returns process, improving the experience, is a key digital transformation objective, but remains a challenge for many retailers due to the complexity of gaining and then assessing returned items.

Again, automated multichannel communications can help ease the process. Once a customer has received or collected their item, they should receive a message informing them of the conditions of return and the process behind it. This will not only help to gain a competitive edge through a frictionless returns process, but also ensure the customer is aware of what the conditions are to return an item, such as requiring the item to be unused and undamaged.

When a customer has decided they want to return an item, they should be able to inform the retailer via the same channel where the initial engagement took place to begin the process of returning an item. The returns process can use a number of smartphone features to improve the experience, such as if a customer reports an item damaged they can submit a photo as evidence or use location tracking to update the customer about their nearest store for returning an item. If they don’t decide to return the item to a store, the customer can use the chatbot to organise a courier pick-up time and date.

When the item has reached the retailer, its condition can be assessed, the customer refunded, and item returned to stock.

Digital network disruption management: closing the technology gap

There are different ways real-time communications, intelligent automation and smartphone capabilities can come together to help manage network disruption. The end-to-end customer journeys and automated processes described in this article, filled with contextual communications and intelligent services, depend on the ability to automate communications across back-end infrastructure and business systems. This depth of orchestration is a must have in order to identify when to trigger the right communication to the right customer.

Many retailers will look to software vendors and Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) providers to help provide the capabilities they need to digitise services and automate delivery processes. In fact, Gartner predicts that 30% of enterprises will deploy CPaaS by 2020.

IMImobile is a CPaaS provider who has been helping retailers and logistics providers to digitise, automate and engage with their customers. If you’d like to talk more about digital network disruption management, please get in touch on LinkedIn or email me at Jeremy.Dexter@imimobile.com.

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