Our SCLA Executive Think Tank group has recently embarked on a discussion series centered around the supply chain's potential as a competitive advantage—a "weapon" in the battle of building a more successful business. Many large organizations are beginning to realize that their supply chain can be a powerful differentiator that drives more revenue, though unlocking its power is not easy.
The good news is that there are many opportunities to utilize assets like data, real estate, and even the customer experience from the supply chain perspective to leverage better results.
(Note that for the purposes of today's article, "customer" refers to enterprise clients, not end-user consumers, though consumers are also arguably much savvier about supply chain now than ever before.)
Customer Focus as a Key Differentiator
My colleague Renee Ure, Chief Operating Officer at Lenovo Data Center Group, shared specifically how being intensely customer-focused has made her company's supply chain a force to be reckoned with.
I know what you may be thinking—the supply chain interfaces directly with customers? Not traditionally, of course—it's true that the supply chain used to be very internally focused. However, after listening to Ms. Ure's experiences, it is clear that transforming the supply chain into a competitive weapon—with regard to driving success through customers—comes down to three big factors (that all happen to start with the letter "T").
Internet retail giant Amazon has set the stage for this necessary aspect of shaping the supply chain to be customer-centric. Companies today must align the supply chain to what the clients want, not the market or categories.
Tailoring one's organization to client wants and needs is not easy, of course. It's cultural, and every member of the team must believe in putting the client first and doing whatever it takes to ensure the best outcomes for every client.
With the traditional internal focus of many supply chains, it's very difficult to hear that customer. It can no longer be that way. Flexibility—and a willingness to customize to solve clients' problems—are critical.
Ms. Ure shared a customer story that demonstrated how building relationships with clients through the supply chain can ultimately promote the greater good—in ensuring that COVID-19 vaccines could be deployed through a major retail network, for instance.
Because this customer trusted the supply chain within Ms. Ure's organization, they turned to that area first—not sales or another function—to quickly and efficiently solve a BIG technology challenge. When the supply chain folks ultimately came through for their client, trust was reinforced. And that is priceless.
Ms. Ure shared that the client "sent an email that they couldn't have done it without us. I want to be that partner and have that trust. I want them to have that trust in what we're delivering. Trust is built in the individual experience that the client has with you—and it builds up over time. When they need you, you have to be able to deliver."
As we've seen, the competitive supply chain of the future needs to be ready to support customers and help them solve problems. This means that the workforce has to become customer-centric. And this requires a change of perspective.
In the past, we've been training supply chain teams around concepts like cost and inventory. But now, we have to "humanize" the supply chain to be customer needs-focused. This involves investing time, energy, and money into cultivating teams with a broader base of skills.
What About the 4th T?
Tailoring, Trust, and Talent. These are all pieces of the ultimate goal of promoting the best possible customer experience. And putting the puzzle together involves a fourth "T": Training.
Ms. Ure noted that incentivizing a customer-centric approach in the supply chain helps everyone stay invested—this has worked well in her organization.
A big part of that is providing effective training and resources to support and grow individuals' talent. This makes sense. As I covered in my last article here on LinkedIn, a significant source of work stress is a lack of support and training opportunities. To cultivate winning supply chain teams, we must give them everything they need to, in turn, give customers everything they need.
Has your organization been moving toward a more customer-centric supply chain? Or are you approaching the battle of building a more successful business through making your supply chain a competitive weapon in other ways?