I didn't have a loading dock, forklift or crew standing by ready to help the driver unload the 250-pound palletized emergency generator I bought for my home. My "receiver" that day was my wife, and the driver from a nationally recognized common carrier was not all too happy to see her.
He had a power liftgate on the truck, and as he dragged the generator onto it, he muttered not so quietly that he didn't care where he "left this damn thing."
Trying to diffuse the situation, she quickly offered him a drink and a cookie from a batch she had just made for a sick neighbor. Well, that lightened his mood a bit, and he skillfully placed the generator just inside the garage where she wanted it. As she signed the bill of lading, he apologized for being ornery, saying he was not used to making deliveries to homes, calling the process too unpredictable.
Home delivery of the big stuff, like appliances and furniture, has always been a challenge for the seller and consumer.
The delivery driver needs to be sure someone over 18 is home, that they have access to the residence and that inside delivery is safe and reasonable. For appliances, the delivery crew will often set up the new refrigerator or stove, take away the old one and remove all packaging. More than a delivery crew, they need to be able to get that new appliance working. Customer service skills are a must.
The mega online merchants have expanded their business to include large items that need to arrive via truck. We see television commercials of smiling crews bringing happy families sofas and dining room tables without breaking a sweat and without a piece of packaging in sight. The doorways seem extra wide and the weather is always clear, dry and warm.
In reality, the big box retailers, where product pickup may have been standard operating procedure, are competing with online merchants for in-home delivery. And the logistics companies are taking notice.
FedEx and Multichannel Merchant collaborated on a report and survey about hard to handle retail deliveries. FedEx, which has introduced a service targeted at retail deliveries, noted an average of 13% of deliveries were damaged.
The performance during that last 50 feet can make all the difference between a happy or unhappy customer.
Increasingly, the truck delivering the material is unmarked, as companies have outsourced this last 50 feet of delivery to private trucking companies that may not have the same customer focus as the dealer. The crews are not employees of the seller, but contractors working for the delivery company. The performance during that last 50 feet can make all the difference between a happy or unhappy customer.
Consumers are also burdened with the traditional delivery commitment of "we'll be there between 9 a.m. and the end of the day."
Recently, I was at home waiting for a delivery of a mattress and box spring from a local store. The company has its truck and crew and delivers to my town twice a week. Two days before the scheduled delivery, I called and asked for an approximate time of delivery. The customer service agent said he didn't know. I asked if he could at least tell me if the delivery would be in the morning or afternoon. Again, I was rebuffed, but this time with a bit of a lecture.
He told me the company uses a "sophisticated computer program" that analyzes the delivery route and he had no influence on the process. "The computer tells us what to do and it is out of our hands," he claimed, thinking that would placate me. As I was about to respond with some logistics logic, the line went dead. My bedding did come on the day it was promised, but at the very end.
So, how can retailers, carriers and consumers make the last 50 feet more efficient?
- Common carriers need to come to terms with more home deliveries and the challenges that go along with them. Consumers are not used to seeing big trucks in their driveways, and the driver jumping out of the cab can be intimidating. Some additional customer service training, or a dedicated consumer unit, may help. And watch for those kids and bikes!
- Supply chain managers in the retail space need to develop a strong level of customer empathy and creativity and understand that delivery crews are an important extension of the retail experience. Delivery of products to stores through the distribution network is all about efficiency, with very little thought given to the crew on the dock. But dealing with consumers is another matter altogether. The release of those air brakes in front of a customer's home can cause anxiety. A properly trained crew that successfully makes a timely delivery can be a competitive advantage. Those last 50 feet can be the most important part of the order.
- Contract delivery services, or even company-owned fleets, need to be more sensitive to establishing more narrow delivery windows so customers can plan on a delivery time. If cable and windshield repair companies can keep you updated as to the approximate time of arrival, then anyone can. I like "I'm on my way" calls. It gives me time to put the dogs in the yard.
- All parties can use technology to improve efficiency. Most trucks carry an onboard GPS tracking device. Just last week I received an email from UPS that my delivery was imminent. With one click, I saw the location of the truck on a map of my neighborhood. I know when most UPS shipments are scheduled to be delivered by clicking a link on the retailer's shipment acknowledgement. I can also request a text of when a delivery is made. Perhaps a text could be sent to the customer with a delivery ETA. It seems as if this problem is not rooted in technology, but in customer service.
- Customers can help as well. Businesses may extend delivery times due to unforeseen circumstances. Weather delays, cumbersome deliveries and complicated setup can wreak havoc with a schedule. Be patient. Be ready for the delivery by making access easy and safe. Take the snow boots out of the hallway and hide the cat before the truck gets there. Let the crews make their delivery and be on their way.
And a cookie wouldn't hurt.