Saturday, November 27, 2021

Customer-Obsessed

The key question of our SCMAP Supply Chain Conference this year—dubbed SCC21 Live—was “what is supply chain’s next big story?”

 

There are a lot of developments that we believe will shape how the supply chain sector contributes to economic growth, business competitiveness and quality of life in the coming years. While these developments were partly shaped by the disruptions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the seeds of these trends begin to blossom in the preceding years.

 

Take the current “supply chain crisis.” With ports congested, cargo vessels backed up and empty containers in short supply, talk is wide of empty shelves and higher prices particularly as the Christmas season looms. We’re seeing this in everything, from so-called “essential items,” to gadgets and home furnishings, and even to fuel. While the shutdown of global economies definitely contributed, one can see the beginnings of this crisis materialize when we started to grapple with limitations on capacity and capability—say, truck drivers choosing to work in other countries, or to shift to driving Grab vehicles instead, to earn more. Recent geopolitical shifts, particularly the rise of nationalist rhetoric, have also impacted supply chains in other parts of the world—take the United Kingdom, which faces a shortage of truck drivers after immigration rules were tightened post-Brexit.

 

The shift towards e-commerce has also been taking place for many years. Growth definitely accelerated in the past year and a half, but acceptance of online retailing and financial services had been gaining ground even before the pandemic, with the popularity of shopping sites like Lazada and mobile wallets like GCash.

 

Local players, both established and new, have long been busy introducing customer-facing innovations and behind-the-scenes efficiencies to better cater to this shift in demand. What the pandemic did was tilt the balance decisively toward online retail, with major brands scrambling to establish an online presence to respond to their customers who are wary of getting COVID-19. It’s certainly a challenge for traditional retail, which until recently was on expansion mode and which now find itself in a market where shopping has moved from recreational to transactional.

 

Finally, the calls for more sustainable supply chains were being made long before the pandemic, as our impact on our home planet became clearer. We’ve seen the calls shift towards holding multinational corporations accountable. We’ve seen these calls shift from token “greenwashing” initiatives towards more meaningful change. Inevitably this process is slow—slower than most want, considering the urgency of the threat of climate change—as companies weigh the impact of these changes on their profits. Take the Philippines and how all talk of protecting the environment seems to be limited towards the adoption of metal and paper straws. But as the pandemic has somehow heralded the return of single-use plastics, and as we become more aware of how unsustainable these practices can be, we expect calls for more sustainable products to hike up.

 

These threads have been around before the pandemic, and will come deeper into focus in the coming years. This means that, all this time, we are ready to take on “supply chain’s next big story.” It’s a central tenet of supply chain management; it’s always been at the heart of our work. We respond by keeping what our customers want at the center of what we do. We respond by being “customer-obsessed,” to quote Maersk Philippines head John Largo.

 

We do this by enriching our culture of collaboration within and outside our businesses, closely working with our colleagues, partners and suppliers. We do this by taking advantage of emerging and existing technologies to take note of what our customers want, whether it be through the many data points we have at our disposal, or through good old conversation. We do this by going beyond the traditional scope of our work; what makes working in supply chain exciting is how our impact goes beyond the value we provide to our companies.

 

And these steps don’t just come in handy when dealing with future trends and opportunities. Current challenges—take the path out of the pandemic, the challenges of vaccine distribution, the gradual reopening of our economy in these post-pandemic realities, whatever they may be—are best solved by being “customer-obsessed.”

 

Our thanks to our speakers, panelists, reactors, moderators and sponsors—and, most especially, to our over 340 delegates—who took part in this year’s SCC21 Live. The event’s resounding success is down to your support. (And if you’re a registered delegate, you can watch recordings of all the sessions on our online event platform until 29 October.

 

Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications director of SCMAP, and editor-in-chief of its official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

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