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Top 7 ways to improve last-mile delivery

Failed deliveries have a powerful effect on customer experience. Here's how to improve last-mile delivery and increase overall customer satisfaction.

Consumers want what they want -- and quickly. To keep their business, companies must find new, creative ways to improve their last-mile delivery strategy and meet customer expectations.

Retail giants like Amazon and Walmart have seemingly limitless resources, yet companies must compete with them in order to survive. Many factors can complicate last-mile delivery and getting it right is crucial.

Here are some strategies organizations can use to improve their last-mile delivery process and meet customer demands.

1. Centralize all logistics data

Software that displays various last-mile logistics data -- such as inventory availability and deadlines -- in one dashboard can greatly improve last-mile delivery operations.

Delays, cost overruns and safety concerns -- all of which powerfully affect operational efficiency and customer experience -- are easier to spot with centralized last-mile logistics data, said Gautam Sardar, consulting leader of manufacturing and logistics at Cognizant, an information technology and services company located in Teaneck, N.J.

Centralized logistics data should also provide faster insight.

Spotting inefficiencies in real time enables faster decision-making, said Travis Turner, director of business development, e-commerce and supply chain at Hire Dynamics, a staffing firm located in Atlanta.

Such was the case for Trophy Nut, a nut processing and packaging company located in Tipp, Ohio.

The organization improved its shipping process and is making faster deliveries after centralizing logistics data in its ERP system, said Keely Quillen, technical specialist at Trophy Nut.

2. Provide real-time driver tracking

Giving customers real-time tracking could lead to happier customers and reduce customer service representatives' workloads.

This feature is already part of some delivery management software. Customers receive a driver tracking link and can view their driver's location in real time. Hardware units on vehicles -- the same technology used in route planning software -- enable consumers to follow their package.

Meeting these consumer demands could also help customer service representatives.

When consumers can track their deliveries in real time, customer service calls will likely decrease, said Suzanne Larabie, vice president of consumer products, retail distribution at Capgemini, a technology and consulting company located in Paris.

3. Automate delivery status changes

Automating delivery status changes lets customers know as soon as possible about a delayed delivery time.

This is another case where keeping the consumer in the loop can help meet customers' delivery expectations. It's not ideal for a package to be late, but it's worse if the package is late and the customer wasn't told about delivery issues.

If the organization didn't communicate the new delivery window, the customer may not order from that company again, Larabie said.

4. Improve communication with drivers

Drivers must be kept in the loop about potential delays like delivery route changes and traffic conditions.

Drivers who don't know about traffic congestion are more likely to be late in delivering packages, which in turn affects customer experience.

Poor driver communication could affect employee retention as well. Drivers may become unhappy and look for another job.

5. Monitor driver performance

Monitoring driver performance and driving could help improve last-mile delivery. Unsafe drivers can negatively affect company expenses and become a public relations problem.

Driver performance is not limited to their being on time, the number of deliveries they make and their turnaround time, Sardar said. Safety and efficiency are also crucial aspects of the job.

This has become more of a concern as e-commerce has increased in popularity.

Companies have hired people who are not necessarily experienced professional drivers and are under tremendous time pressure to make their deliveries, said Susan Beardslee, principal analyst at ABI Research, a market foresight advisory firm located in Oyster Bay, N.Y.

Drivers who speed endanger other motorists and pedestrians, are at higher risk for accidents and are more likely to damage a delivery vehicle. Aggressive driving could also increase fuel consumption, which affects overall fuel costs.

6. Offer more choice and convenience

Creative delivery methods could lead to improved delivery times.

We believe that there's an opportunity for stores to become almost like the new warehouse, serving both online and in-store customers.
Robert HorstVice president of real estate management, retail at Oxford Properties Group

Some companies are turning to services like Instacart for fast delivery. Grocery and drug store chains such as CVS, Wegmans and Sprouts have outsourced their deliveries to Instacart, while other organizations are pairing with companies that previously focused on takeout delivery, like Postmates and DoorDash, to bring items to consumers via same-day delivery.

While Amazon is probably best known for its delivery lockers, companies like Home Depot and Stop & Shop, a chain of supermarkets located in the northeastern United States, are also offering the service. Customers can go to the locker whenever the store is open, though in some cases, the system relies on the delivered products being non-perishable.

Meanwhile, Oxford Properties Group, a global real estate company in Toronto, has partnered with GoFor Industries to launch ShipNow, an initiative in which participating retailers ship from stores in its Square One mall in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada to customers in the local area.

ShipNow will expand to other Square One malls in the future, said Robert Horst, vice president of real estate management, retail at Oxford Properties Group.

Horst believes that the fastest way to get products to customers is having the product originate from a local store instead of a centrally located distribution center.

"What we are trying to do is help more retailers fulfill their online orders through the local store," he said. "We believe that there's an opportunity for stores to become almost like the new warehouse, serving both online and in-store customers."

7. Automate route planning and driver dispatch

Automating route planning and driver dispatch can improve delivery route optimization and driver allocation.

Automated route planning software is a management system that tracks each vehicle's location using hardware units. Once a manager adds drivers and their routes to the system, the software optimizes each route, then sends real-time vehicle information to the manager's dashboard. The system can take into account variables like traffic or weather so drivers use the most efficient routes.

Automating driver dispatch could prevent the mistakes brought about by human error.

Automation reduces the chance that a human dispatcher will tell a driver incorrect information because the dispatcher is receiving the latest route data, Larabie said.

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