Bare shelves in a grocery store
PHOTO: John Cameron on Unsplash

A recent New York Times article predicted that supply chain issues are unlikely resolve before the end of the year because there aren’t enough ships, warehouses or truckers to ease many of the pain points.

High demand and labor shortages continue to tangle up retail supply chains, with frustrated customers often finding empty shelves, meaning a significant, continuing CX challenge.

Dissatisfied patrons may want to go to a competitor, but there are three techniques you can use to maintain continued customer loyalty.

Connect Technology With Data

"This must be your top priority right now,” said Brian Lannan, Avtex Vice President of Retail Experience. “Every digital touchpoint you have must accurately reflect your inventory position and order-filling capacity in real-time.”

Lannan relayed two recent examples of disconnected data and poor technology creating poor experiences:

He placed a “stock-up” order with a chain grocery store. The order involved different quantities of items, so he expected it to take a little time to complete but still thought the store would fulfill the order by the expected pickup time. But five minutes after checking out online, the store texted him asking to delay the order until the next day due to being short-staffed. “I canceled the order, drove to another store and did my shopping in person.”

With a second grocery chain, Lannan and the personal shopper spent more than 30 minutes texting back and forth about numerous substitutions. The store was out of multiple items, but the app showed they were all available. On top of that, there was a bag missing when Lannan picked up his order.

“In each of these instances, a simple technological fix would have made a huge difference in my experience,” Lannan said. “In the first, giving the store the ability to close off new orders for the day would have saved me a ton of time. Instead, new orders kept coming in, and they kept having to cancel them.

"In the second, the grocery store’s app was not connected in any meaningful way to their inventory system. If the app had reflected accurate inventory, I would have selected items that were actually available. Connected technology and proactive data management can go a long way toward saving your customers time and relieving pressure on your employees."

Related Article: Online? In-Store? Get Ready for the Era of Phygital Shopping

Communicate With Your Customers

"Most Americans at this point understand that supply chains are strained,” Lannan said. “What consumers want to know is what are you doing about it? Can they rely on the inventory levels in your ordering app?  Can they trust that you’ll make it right if you don’t deliver what you’ve promised?”

Your loyal customers need the most love in these moments, Lannan added. If you’re getting the most out of your customer data, you know who they are, what they buy and when. If the inventory is low on a customer’s favorite item, offer something different. Keep all customers informed through product information pages and at-shelf signage about what products are out of stock, when they might return and what you recommend to purchase instead.

“Every interaction with your brand is an opportunity to reassure or sow doubt about your brand,” Lannan said. “If you manage expectations and bridge your customers to a more frictionless future, you’ll find yourself doing a lot less apologizing.”

Related Article: How to Communicate Bad News to Customers

Create a Proactive Strategy

“Proactivity will make or break CX during supply chain issues,” said Daniel Rodriguez, Simplr CMO. “You can either let the customer know that there will likely be a shipping delay, or you can have them find out about it on their own through package tracking. Which sounds like the better CX? By being proactive, you get to control the message, convey transparency and honesty to instill trust and showcase to the customer that you are thinking of them at all times.”

Proactive issue avoidance is going to be a hallmark tenant of strong CX programs going forward, Rodriguez added. “The data and communication channels are available to CX teams now to identify customer problems and offer solutions — all before the customer knows about the problem in the first place. The current supply chain issues give brands a great opportunity to get the right processes in place now, before customers come to expect proactive issue avoidance at all times.”

To resolve a poor customer experience like product shortages, lean into where you can provide great CX, Rodriguez recommended. “We recently found that in the food and restaurant industry, 90% of consumers who had a poor ordering experience (e.g., getting served the wrong item) still increased their likelihood of repurchasing from the company after a good customer service interaction.

"Imagine that: increased customer loyalty even after a bad experience...all because of great customer service. Essentially, whether it’s shipping issues or getting the wrong hamburger from your local burger stand, customer service can save the day, even when all else fails.”

Final Thoughts

Most businesses, no matter the industry, have been hit with shortages in the past year. Though it's hard to predict when those shortages will end, you don't have to lose customers in the meantime. 

A thought-out CX strategy that emphasizes tackling issues before they arise can ensure your customers are satisfied, even if you don't have exactly what they're looking for. By ensuring data-fueled applications are up to date and keeping the lines of communication open, you can weather the shortage storm and come out on the other side with happy, loyal customers.