ClearMetal head of CX: Frontline supply chain staff are acting as the Band-Aid to data quality problems

Elise Le talks about the need for greater visibility into the manual work and spreadsheet sprawl that happens across the logistics sector

Elise Le was working with the senior vice-president of global supply chain for a clothing distribution firm that wanted to improve its customer experience. This was a highly detail-oriented person, she said. He had to be, given his company prided itself on an online delivery rate of 98 per cent.

The one detail he was missing, however, was insight into all the behind-the-scenes work necessary to prevent orders from running late.

“He was pretty shocked. There were a lot more spreadsheets than he had envisioned,” Le, the head of CX for San Francisco-based ClearMetal, recalled in a virtual fireside chat her company hosted earlier this week. “KPIs don’t capture the effort that’s required to maintain that KPI, or to achieve it.”

ClearMetal, which provides what’s called customer delivery experience (CDX) software, helps organizations gain visibility into their supply chains, an area that has only grown in importance amid the outbreak of COVID-19.

Beyond using technology strategically, however, Le said too many supply chain execs aren’t aware of the data quality issues that stymie their attempts to bring more value to their customers.

“What you’ll likely find as an executive when you go and talk to your front line workers is that they’re probably making a heroic effort every single day to mitigate the impact of bad information getting to your customer,” she said. “Your people are being the band-aid for the data quality problem that you have.”

Spreadsheet Hell, In A Nutshell

As an archetypical example, staff might take data — such as an order from an enterprise resource planning system (ERP) or transport data from a transport management system (TMS) — and put it into a spreadsheet. Le said that same worker might then conduct research across multiple carrier web sites, check marine traffic and vessel schedules and even call terminals.

The results would be manually put into the spreadsheet, but the process would continue as employees get feedback and questions from customers, spawning more spreadsheets. Data is often manually aggregated and sent on a weekly basis to warehouses, and monthly to a finance department to process invoices. Every six months, the same data might also be compiled into a transit table that feeds into planning systems, Le said.

“It sounds like I’m talking about companies stat don’t have any systems, but they do,” she said. “People are doing all of this extra work on top of all these systems that have already been built.”

This is partly because those systems weren’t designed with CX in mind, but also because in a lot of large corporations, executives are designed to be siloed, according to Le.

“A VP of global supply chain could be ten layers to hundreds (away) from front-line people,” she said.

Not all supply chain firms are struggling to this extent. ClearMetal’s customers include Georgia Pacific, which has created a mandate to find technologies and processes that achieve its core value of “customer intimacy,” Le said.

“They know the person on the other end of the line. They know that customer,” she said. “They create relationships by knowing them, supporting them and providing them with solutions. They’re not just that person that calls to deliver them bad news.”

While ClearMetal has an obvious vested interest in promoting supply chain visibility, Le said it’s easy to overlook or misunderstand the benefits it brings to the entire culture of an organization. The most successful companies have already learned this first-hand, she said.

“They don’t shy away from wanting to improve personnel productivity,” she said, citing Unilever and others. “It’s not to reduce headcount —they come to us with this perspective that they want to intrinsically motivate and empower people to better serve their customers.”

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