How the E-Commerce and Logistics Industry can Adapt to Serve Customers in these Challenging Times

During the COVID-19 crisis, the spotlight is on the e-commerce and logistics industry when it comes to providing essential and non-essential goods for consumers. With the lockdowns across the world, these companies are critical to ensuring people are able to get the supplies they need to live on. 

So what are some of the responsibilities and challenges they face and how can they overcome them, when operating under the current circumstances? We caught up with Sriram Sridhar, the CEO of lateshipment.com. to understand how the e-commerce and logistics industry is dealing with the crisis and what changes they had to make to cope and adapt.

Hi, Sri, how are you doing?

Great, or at least as good as I could be considering the situation around this time.

Could you tell us a little about lateshipment.com? What do you guys do and where you come from in terms of your understanding of the e-commerce and logistics industry?

Lateshipment.com is a SaaS technology company. We work with businesses around the world, from pretty much any geography you can think of – US, Canada, even parts of Asia, Africa, etc. We call ourselves a tech company and we work in a niche space, which is the post-purchase experience space. We help businesses track their shipments while they’re in transit i.e — after a shipment has left the warehouse right up until the point it reaches the customer and it’s been invoiced back to the business. 

We collect about 130 data points per shipment we track and we’ve tracked more than a hundred million packages shipments at this point. That leaves us in a very, very unique position where we hold possibly among one of the largest data sets when it comes to tracking and shipping related data.  We get to always see what a business is doing, what’s happening behind the scenes as far as the shipping volumes and customer complaints faced, etc. This gives us a unique perspective during a situation (like the one we’re facing right now) where we’ve seen tremendous changes happen in the back end for many businesses. And the way they react to it has really offered us a lot of insight into what’s unraveling around us.

How has this situation affected the way you’re doing business and how has it affected your industry?

We are not unique in this regard, just like every other business out there. The situation and how quickly it developed has certainly had an impact. The easiest way to share what that impact has been is to divide what we do into two halves. 

First, we bring accountability to certain carriers, we identify where things have gone wrong such as delivery or a billing error, and then help recover the money they paid to shipping carriers. With this situation developing, all the guarantees, all the money-back claims, etc have been suspended by shipping carriers because they were a major part of our business. So now we’ve started moving away from that. 

The other part of what we do is we monitor shipments while they’re in transit. And we identify potential issues with shipments that are en-route to customers. And that obviously has blown up quite a bit with the focus on e-commerce, with the number of shipments that are currently in-transit and also the tremendous strain that shipping carriers have. In fact, our customers recognize us to be one of the only resources they have to give them better insight and control over their shipments in transit. So they’ve been reaching out to us extensively, and we’ve been positioning ourselves to help them better. 

So we had to come to terms with this new scenario early. The sooner we accepted it, the quicker we were able to get to the phase of adapting to it, Obviously, being a SaaS and tech company, relatively young, left us in a good position to easily recognize what customers are expecting from us and also quickly be able to cater to our customers’ needs. And finally, that brings us to the agility part of it which is what enabled us to pretty much take a look at the situation just like how he described in the start as whipping out customers extensively in the post-purchase space, keeping track of their shipments in transit.

That’s been the month so far, and I’m really thankful for everybody on our team who have been able to rally together and put us into a position where we are offering even more value to customers through this.

Your customers are from various industries all over the world. Could you shed some light on how specific industries are doing in this process?

With regards to how the situation is affecting businesses, there has been a wide range of responses. When we look at things internally, we’ve been dividing businesses into two categories. Businesses that deal with essential commodities have seen an explosion in order volumes. Some businesses that sell essential goods, the audits have been through the roof. Their problem has been keeping things in stock. 

On the other side, things that we may consider to be wants or non-essential goods, maybe fashion, jewelry, or gifts, or etc, those are categories, which are seeing a huge hit in terms of what their volumes look like. We’ve had customers call in and ask us: “Hey, you’ve seen our shipping volume go down by 190%? Is this the norm, are we doing better or worse (than others in our category)?” and that sadly has been the reality for certain business categories.

Another perspective we’ve been seeing from the background has been the way businesses have been reacting to the situation. What I mean by that is,  we work with a wide variety of businesses from large shippers, big-box retail who ship millions of packages to smaller mom and pop stores where their sales are mostly through foot traffic. Across the spectrum, we are seeing certain businesses who’ve been able to quickly pivot to set up things to cater from an e-commerce perspective. Even some businesses that are traditional brick and mortar retail dependent on foot traffic, have been able to foresee the situation quite early and transform themselves to cater to people online – especially if they have a strong branded entity, their shipping volumes have actually gone up. 

People who were used to stepping in and buying from them have started ordering from them online and that’s really set the better businesses apart. And the same holds true for the way they’re dealing with the situation in terms of businesses that understand their inventory better and keep the right things in stock. They seem to be servicing new customers who have a need for essential commodities. A similar kind of business, which did not act as quickly or did not make the right decisions with regards to inventory, may still find a lot of customers going to their website, but then they don’t really have the stock to sell. All this highlights how much of an impact of being agile and being aware of the situation and reacting quickly to it has made a difference to businesses?

What are some of the challenges that you’re seeing support agents face, especially in the logistics and e-commerce space? What are the common customer issues they frequently receive and how are they dealing with these challenges?

When you look inside businesses and the Customer Support side of things, at some point they have seen a huge change in the way they operate. They’ve been operating remotely and certain businesses, their order values, etc have been going through the roof so it’s really hard for businesses to scale their support activities. 

Contributing even more to it has been a couple of hard facts. When customers are ordering things right now, they are mostly ordering things that they desperately need. So that means they are paying closer attention to their orders. And when things don’t reach them on time they have questions about their orders, they’re desperate and panic for answers. 

The second part is also the shipping carrier networks, obviously considering the situation they’re under tremendous strain. They’re short-staffed, and they’re also still dealing with larger order volumes similar to what we see with holiday shipping. This creates a scenario where there are a lot more errors creeping in. In fact, we are seeing delay rates to be about 15-20% in certain parts of the country.  That’s a considerable number. All this comes back as problems to support teams. So a customer who’s not able to get through to a support team, a customer who doesn’t have enough information about his order, they’re going to blame the business for it. This is the amount of strain support teams are under. 

Even here, we are starting to see a clear difference between how certain businesses are being proactive and upfront in taking care of these issues. In fact, I was just having a conversation last night with a pretty large customer who ships mattresses out of the US. They’ve been reaching out to us understanding shipping carrier performance, and also getting proactive alerts on their helpdesk systems about which shipments required attention. That preemptively lets your support team step in and take action. 

The better businesses are looking out for their customers and always striving to ensure that their customers are kept aware of the situation, and keep them informed about issues ahead of schedule, rather than letting them get into a state of panic after things have gone wrong. We’re actually seeing more businesses shift to a proactive approach because it means support teams are on their own schedule when addressing issues rather than being put on a spot when a customer with an issue calls. 

Using the data that they have available with them and also paying a bit more attention to what’s happening to their shipments while they’re in transit has made a difference to businesses in terms of offering better support to their customers first.

We were in conversation with a few of our more proactive customers, and they tell us the best investment they could be making at this point in time is to improve the engagement and experience that our customers have. This generates a lot of goodwill, and they remember that we did a stellar job when they were in desperate need. And that obviously means a lot to us even after the situation’s passed.

You mentioned earlier that you’re a data-first company and you have the unique position of having a large data set to draw from. What are some of the unique insights that leadership can offer customers to help them benchmark and optimize their business processes, especially at this time?

One of the things we wanted to do as a business was to try helping the community out as much as possible. And that meant when we looked inwards, the biggest value that we were in a position to offer to the business community is the data that we hold about the last shipments in transit and there are not a lot of other sources for that data. 

When we looked at it, we wanted to set aside all (previous) priorities, and start measuring ourselves based on how much value we were able to add to the community while setting aside traditional metrics. That meant prioritizing features that were scheduled to go out later in our roadmap such as the ability to intimate to customers in real-time about their orders in transit. Get back to support teams about issues that certain shipments in transit were facing. Giving businesses insights about what’s happening within their industry, whether the response has been in line with, what the industry leaders are doing. 

So transforming the data that we have with us into actionable information that goes back to support teams, customers, and also the business itself so they can align better during this time of need is what we’ve been focusing on. We sincerely believe, being available and offering help and support to our customers, not just our immediate customers, but also people who stand to benefit from the data that we have generates a lot of goodwill. And it certainly makes a difference in the business community as a whole. 

Key Takeaways

#1 Acceptance, adaptability, and agility are the three key initiatives companies should take to manage the current situation.

#2 For retailers and logistic companies, increased focus on customer service and engagement will serve you well in adding value and securing repeat customers for the future.

#3 Companies must also find a way to reduce the strain on their customer support teams due to the rising number of inquiries.

#4 Use the current situation to help the community and earn goodwill. Retailers are the primary source of goods and services and logistic companies are responsible for shipping them to consumers. Leveraging your capabilities to help the community now will serve your business well in the long run.