What is Supply Chain Visibility and How To Use It To Improve Customer Experience

Clint Fontanella
Clint Fontanella


Have your customers ever tried to buy something online from your website only to discover that it was out of stock, or worse, maybe they did make the purchase, but after weeks of waiting, the product ordered never arrived at their front door?

customer benefitting from supply chain visibility by picking up a package at her doorstep that was delivered on time

If so, these customers would surely appreciate some supply chain visibility.

Without a visible supply chain, some customers will get frustrated by waiting without a clear delivery date, while others will lose faith that they're getting their product. This uneasiness is enough to stop first-time buyers from returning to your store because they don't know if they will receive their order at the right time.

In this post, we'll explain everything you need to know about supply chain visibility, including what it is, why it's important, and ways to improve it in your business.

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Why Supply Chain Visibility Is Important in Customer Service

For a business, supply chain visibility helps you understand when a product will be restocked so you can promote it to your customer base. For example, if you know that a popular product will be delivered soon, you can create a timely advertising campaign and spread the message to your customers.

Supply chain visibility helps customers know when a product they ordered will arrive at their front door instead of waiting clueless. If customers have to wait with no clue about when the product will be delivered, most will be wary until it arrives on their doorstep.

Even when it does arrive, some customers will hesitate to return for another purchase. Especially if they wanted it delivered quickly or needed it by a specific date.

Here's a real example from my own experience.

Supply Chain Visibility Example

Last summer, I bought a canoe from an online retailer because it was on sale. Unfortunately, I found out that the canoe was placed on backorder and wouldn't be delivered until after August. My dreams of traversing the great rapids of northern New Hampshire quickly faded as I packed away my paddles for next summer and waited until Fall for my canoe to arrive.

The feeling of delight that I received from the sale was quickly negated by the company's poor supply chain visibility. While I was happy that I got a good deal, I wanted the canoe for this summer, not the next one. Since the company did a poor job communicating its product availability, I won't return for another purchase because I can't trust that the next order will be delivered in a timely manner.

Had the company done more to communicate the product was on backorder, this point of friction would have been avoided. I still would have bought the discounted canoe, but my expectations would have been appropriately set to deliver it at the summer's end. This would have strengthened my relationship with the brand because I would have appreciated their proactive customer service.

That's just one way a brand can improve supply chain visibility. Read on for a few more ideas in the next section.

1. Map Your Supply Chain Network.

Before making your supply chain more visible, you need to understand how it works and where your company's resources are coming from. The easiest way to do this is to map out all of your suppliers and analyze how each one delivers its product or resource to your business. Once you know how your products get made and delivered to your customers, you'll have an easier time making your supply chain more visible.

2. Be Proactive When Sharing Updates.

When a problem affects your supply chain, it's essential to be proactive and communicate changes to your customer base. Don't wait around for customers to reach out to your support team because they haven't received an order. Instead, message them directly so they know you're aware of the issue and are working to deliver their purchase as soon as possible.

You don't have to explain every detail, but you do need to let them know why shipping is delayed and when they can expect their product to be delivered. Remember, most customers will be understanding if you're transparent and reassuring. But, if you don't tell them when they'll receive their order, they'll keep calling until they get an answer.

3. Communicate Often With Suppliers.

The best way to know when a new shipment will arrive is to communicate often with your suppliers. If you forge a strong relationship with them, you can confidently tell customers when a purchase will arrive. And, when issues do affect your supply chain, you'll be one of the first to know about any updates or delays.

4. Offer Shipping Tracking.

If you’re an ecommerce brand, a great way to increase supply chain visibility is to add automated shipment tracking to your website — like in the example below.

How to increase supply chain visibility: fedex shipping tracking

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This software lets the customer know exactly when an order is processed, shipped, and delivered to their front door. It also has live tracking updates describing where the product is in each delivery process step.

For instance, in the example above, we can see the product was packaged on August 8th and was sent out for delivery later that afternoon. That way, if the customer doesn't receive the package on August 15th, both the business and the customer know there was an issue with the delivery.

5. Provide Real-Time Shipping Updates.

Similar to the live tracking updates in the last example, real-time updates are another way to let customers know when a product will be delivered. In fact, many businesses use SMS to message customers with delivery updates, just like in the example below.

How to increase supply chain visibility: amazon real time shipping updates

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6. Partner With an Online Shopping Assistant.

If you aren't looking to offer in-house shipping tracking, another option is to partner with an online shopping assistant who can do this for you. For example, Shop is an order tracking app that tells customers when their product is going to arrive. When customers buy something, their order information is forwarded to Shop, where they can review things like expected delivery dates, tracking numbers, and previous purchases.

Shop can even map the delivery route, so you know exactly where an order is when it's marked "in transit" on the app.

How to increase supply chain visibility: online shopping assistant shop

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7. Gather Customer Feedback.

If you're unsure where to improve supply chain visibility at your business, surveying your customers is an excellent place to start. You can do this with an NPS or CSAT survey that's sent via email once a product has been delivered. With this survey, you can ask customers where your business can improve its delivery process and what more your company can offer after making a purchase.

For more ways to improve customer satisfaction, review some of these popular customer experience trends.

Supply Chain Visibility Trends to Watch Out For in 2023

Speaking of trends, here are some supply chain visibility trends ecommerce business owners need to watch out for as we head into the new year.

  • Digital Transformation

The COVID pandemic revealed some issues with past supply chain operations — especially with data or record keeping. However, moving forward, more supply chain operations are expected to become digitalized. That involves using cloud-based systems and automated processes to keep better records and make informed decisions.

  • Improvement In Driver Technology

Younger workers joining the supply chain workforce expect a desirable employee experience.

A desirable experience involves using robots to handle or speed up rather labour-intensive or monotonous tasks. For example, these workers expect robots to handle things like moving products around in a warehouse. Drivers are also expecting ergonomic tools (like headrests, adjustable pedals & steering wheel) and other technologies like radio-frequency identification (RFID), GPS, and electronic point of sale (EPOS).

  • Nearshoring

Because of the increased customer supply demands, more businesses are choosing to nearshore — a situation where an organization outsources work (in this case, deliveries) to less expensive companies that are geographically closer.

Nearshoring allows you to lower shipping costs and quickly handle deliveries to your customers.

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