October 5 2023 | 8 Min Read

Situation Files #7: Simplifying a supply chain with clear communication

Posted By
Wendy Mackenzie
Situation Files #7: Simplifying a supply chain with clear communication

How we helped a client save 5 hours a week on delivery negotiations

There are plenty of situations in supply chain management where good working relationships form as a byproduct of the day-to-day work: A happy little bonus, and that’s about it. There are easily as many scenarios where the human touch acts as an important ingredient in making something work better. You couldn’t swing a novelty stuffed cat in our blog without it colliding with a half dozen of these kinds of story beats.

Case in point: Helping with a tough carrier negotiation. Or this situation, where we talked our way to better processes. Or this one, where we advised on how to ship smarter.

One situation we’ve talked about far less is a moment where everything boils down to human connection. And that’s weird, because it happens a lot. So often, the crux of a favorable logistics outcome hinges on nothing more (and nothing less) than shared trust and clear communication.

So, let’s work on bridging that gap. In this Situation File, we’ll explore the challenges faced by a newer client, a textile manufacturer that was struggling to handle product returns. It’s a simple yet compelling example of two teams getting their heads together to build smart, sustainable supply chain solutions. 

The upshot

  • 5 hours per week saved on handling product returns
  • Happier end customers, more repeat business
  • Less stress for … well … everyone, really

The sitch

Picture a product. It is a big thing. It is heavy to lift, ungainly to carry, and yet fragile enough that if you handle this thing poorly, it’ll be permanently damaged. Our clients sold exactly such a big, heavy and unwieldy thing.

Picture a customer. Unlike the aforementioned thing, this customer isn’t particularly big… but they are unhappy. They’re unhappy because the thing they ordered arrived damaged. So they request an exchange and then they’re passed from person to person. All told, this customer waits up to a month for the return to be fulfilled. Our clients were dealing with exactly this kind of customer scenario.

You’d think this might be relatively easy to fix — especially given the damaging consequences — but this was a problem with many moving parts.

For a start, our client shipped through a wide network of middle sellers. Each additional link in this chain imposed more processing layers, new potential for confusion. Then there was the thing itself. The client was facing an uphill battle shipping a product of significant weight and unusual dimensions. Many delivery agents just weren’t equipped to handle this product safely, so the physical aspects of delivery threw out constant curveballs.

And encasing all of these hard nuts and bolts problems was a much fuzzier challenge – one that was difficult to pin down. There was just so much data to track. Information overload meant that minor communication inconsistencies often compounded. Even trivial tasks became infuriatingly daunting and exception-riddled.

What was going wrong?

  • Too many moving parts: There was just too much going on and too little clear communication to glue it all together.
  • Not enough clarity: Carriers didn’t know what they needed to do to ship this thing properly. Customers didn’t know who they were supposed to talk to to arrange an exchange.
  • Too much data to track: When a customer return request came through, information would typically have to migrate through a handful of key players. People doing the shipping didn’t know who was supposed to be doing what.

The solve

We met to talk about it.

OK, we should probably elaborate on that a little bit, but it’s not oversimplifying too, too much to say that this problem evaporated when our client and IL2000 sat down to discuss and dissect the problem. The solve started with a conversation — not about trucking lanes or the finer points of freight classification or carrier policies, but about … wait for it … empathy.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the end customer.”

That was our starting point. Mr. or Mrs. Customer was being shunted from person to person to negotiate a product exchange. Meanwhile, their credit card bill had a not inconsiderable thing-related expense.

As much as this problem was a failure of logistics it was also a failure to establish trust. So we worked on fixing a lack of trust first, setting up a clear point of contact that’d improve the purchaser’s exchange experience with far greater consistency of messaging.

Next, we talked about what, exactly, made this particular problem so intransigent to a sustainable resolution. We quickly hit a point of consensus. The key players dealing with returns needed to talk more. We set up and joined in on a bi-weekly meeting where two agenda items reigned supreme: These are the problems we are seeing, and these are the problems we are still seeing.

In other words, we got everyone in on a conversation about what we needed to fix right now and which of those things we could fix systematically so that the issue was easier to resolve next time. Before our client knew up from down, they’d clawed back five hours a week.

Consensus on how to communicate? Check.

We turned then (as a heroic problem-solving team) to tackle the bigger problem: The high recurrence of damaged goods coupled with carriers struggling to meet specialized product delivery requirements. Here’s the funny thing. Our client had initially considered this the “hard” end of their dilemma — a problem that’d likely require considerable capital or systemic technical inputs to resolve.

Neither proved necessary.

The main problem was fuzzier than we first thought. Carriers just didn’t know how the product should be handled until it was sitting in their truck. Why? Because no system was in place to tell them. So we developed a template. The rate of damages and missed deliveries plummeted.

With just a few hours of focused conversation, we’d tamed the roll of the dice part of this equation into a known quantity… and that includes the time it took to eat the pizza.

What went right?

  • We defined the real problem: When a problem has been around for a while, it sometimes gets hard to unravel what caused what. With clarity borne of years of doing this kind of work, we helped untangle it.
  • We got the right people talking: We coordinated a bi-weekly conversation about what happened that week and why. That made the team more responsive and agile, sure, but it also elevated their approach to something far more proactive.
  • We built trust: Not just trust for IL2000 and our people, but between everyone involved in moving this product. Part of that trust came from open dialog. Part of it came from simple, straightforward templates and clear lines of communication. Added all together, we built a solid foundation of goodwill and clarity that made it that much easier to get things done.

The take home(s)

There are a few key points to take home from this one.

  • First, it’s worth remembering that IL2000 works with companies with complex supply chains sending a household product to residential customers. If you have a complex supply chain, we can help you.
  • Second, this situation reinforces this key idea that not all difficult supply chain problems require technical solutions, equipment or more sophisticated software. Sometimes, fixing a logistics problem boils down to experience and perspective.
  • Finally? We don’t just offer advice. We’re actively engaged partners who work closely with our clients to face their unique supply chain challenges head-on.

Talk matters! So let’s talk. 


Topics: Dropshipping, Supply Chain Management, Consumer Goods, Consumer Demand

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