Customer Feedback Is Overrated and Other Myths of Last-Mile Delivery Service

Dec. 11, 2015
Whoever said, “Good things come to those who wait” never tried to survey delivery customers.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Thomas Edison once felt the need to defend his dubious rate of progress, saying, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Many companies that have tried to use last-mile delivery surveys can relate, because even though these surveys have been administered multiple times, most have failed to live up to their full potential. In many cases, their response rate has been low, their completion rate limited, and their findings more observational than actionable.

However that doesn’t mean that post-delivery surveys are useless—or that they can’t succeed spectacularly. In fact, as the omni-channel gains momentum, few measurement practices are as worthwhile as conducting surveys.

The trick lies in using all of the attempts that have already been made to determine which kinds of post-delivery survey attitudes and practices will work best for your company—and which like the following are best left on the cutting room floor. Here are five ways NOT to succeed at customer satisfaction surveys.

1. Considering Post-Delivery Surveys Inconsequential

Let’s start with the belief that post-delivery surveys are less important than other forms of supply chain performance measurement—and that all of the delivery attributes that customers value most (such as being on time) are just as easily monitored via the use of technologies such as digital proof-of-delivery.

Although last-mile delivery is indeed a small portion of most companies’ supply chains, it looms the largest for end customers because it’s the only part they actually see. In fact, many consumers have indicated that they now factor delivery service into their purchasing decisions , and approximately 16% have stated they’ll take their business elsewhere if they have even one negative delivery experience.

It’s also important to note that there’s a lot more that goes into a successful delivery than just timeliness and proper product care. Like it or not you can’t be entirely sure how a delivery team has complied with your company’s key policies, such as wearing the proper uniforms, showing credentials and treating customers and their homes with respect—or discover what kind of lasting impression your company really made—unless you ask the people who were there.

2. Being Too Selective about Your Sample Size

There are some business functions that can easily be measured via the traditional, scientific sample approach. There are others, like last-mile, that can’t.

By its very nature, each last-mile delivery is a highly distinct event whose quality can vary significantly from carrier to carrier, team to team and even from day to day. As a result each represents several pieces of unique performance information (including which performers are and aren’t making the grade with customers) that it’s critical for your company to have. Just as important, each represents an individual customer whose take on his or her experience really needs to be heard, especially if things went wrong, because you can only correct the service problems you know about.

In other words, these surveys aren’t just about statistics and scores. They’re about relationships—and treating people like names instead of numbers.

For optimal visibility, reach out and at least attempt to survey as many of your delivery customers as you can. You and the people responsible for your company’s quality control and customer retention will be glad you did.

3. Putting the Burden of Initiating Feedback on Your Customers

While it’s easy to assume that leaving behind a comment card, supplying a toll-free complaint number, or directing customers to call or go online to take a survey are sufficient ways to gather customer feedback, that’s not the case. In fact, that’s akin to thinking that you’re successfully polling every driver on the road simply because you’ve placed a “how’s my driving?” sign on the back of all your trucks.

The more steps or barriers you add to the process of completing a post-delivery survey, the less likely people are to participate. And requiring customers to take action on their own to contact you definitely qualifies as an obstacle.

With this in mind, always have your company initiate the survey process instead of leaving the ball in your customers’ court. Just as important, make an effort to test drive the different survey methods available to yoube it phone, text, e-mail, or snail mail—to see which one resonates most with the audience you’re trying to reach. You may be surprised to discover that a less expensive, automated method works even better than something more time-consuming and costly.

4. Taking Too Long between Deliveries and Surveys

Whoever said, “Good things come to those who wait” clearly never tried to survey home delivery customers.

If your company allows too much time to elapse between delivery and survey follow-up, you’ll miss out on a prime opportunity to reach customers while they still have the details top-of-mind. You’ll also lose the ability to detect—and begin diffusing—any complaints or service issues at the earliest phase, when they’re generally more solvable.

Do your completion rate and exceptions management a favor: Try to contact each customer on the same day that he or she received a delivery, preferably within an hour.

In a similar vein, make sure you don’t take up too much of respondents’ time by administering a survey that’s too long, meaning it will take more than a few minutes to complete. At best, your customers will stop responding long before the end. At worst, they’ll resent you for wasting their time.

5. Pretending to Listen

As consumers ourselves, most of us have had at least one regrettable experience when our complaints about a company’s product or service went nowhere. The chances it impacted our relationship with that company for the worse.

If your customers have been candid enough to share even minor disappointments about their deliveries via your survey, don’t make the mistake of thinking that they’re now okay simply because they had a chance to vent. Instead, assume that they’re also hoping for some form of closure or restitution—and do what you can to provide it. (In some cases, this may be as simple as sending a written letter of apology. In others, it may require an exchange, repair, return, or some sort of goodwill gesture, such as a discount, refund, or gift certificate. It all depends on the severity of the complaint. Either way, it’s time and money well-spent, especially when you consider what it would cost to replace those customers.)

Be aware that the kinds of post-customer service research methods detailed here will not be inexpensive. In fact, it’s likely that your company will have to increase its investment in systems and add personnel who are dedicated to helping with tallying and exceptions management.

However, I can assure you that the benefits you receive as a result will ultimately be worth every penny. Your clients will appreciate the increased visibility and sense of control. The carriers you use will be more motivated to put their best foot forward, because most of us tend to work harder when we know we’re being evaluated and held accountable. And your company will enjoy its improved delivery performance and more positive customer relationships.

No matter how you measure it, that’s a successful outcome for everyone.

Will O’Shea is chief sales & marketing officer for XPO Logistics’ last-mile business unit, a provider of heavy goods, last-mile delivery and installation in North America. XPO facilitates more than 12 million last-mile deliveries per year with the help of more than 6,000 independent contract carrier/white-glove delivery teams, 1,000 installation/assembly professionals and technology. XPO Logistics is a global provider of supply chain solutions, including less-than-truckload transportation, truckload brokerage and transportation, last-mile logistics, engineered supply chain solutions, high-value-added warehousing and distribution, ground and air expeditee, intermodal, drayage, global forwarding and managed transportation.

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