By Shep Hyken / www.forbes.com / January 23rd, 2016
I may be dating myself, but back in the early 1980s (while I was still I school) I ordered a piece of Kluge luggage out of an airline flight magazine. This was the over-the-shoulder luggage that could efficiently hold a couple of suits, pants, two pairs of shoes, shirts – and much more. Kluge was a leader of luggage innovation – and mail-order. I was so excited to order it, but very disappointed to see that the promised delivery date was two to four weeks after I placed the order. Optimistically, I hoped it was closer to two weeks than four.
Well, was I surprised when it showed up in just 10 days! I remember thinking something like, “These Kluge people are amazing!” They exceeded my expectations.
Back then, that long shipping time was the norm, the expectation. Customers accepted it. Unless you wanted to pay dramatically more for faster shipping, there was nothing to do but wait. Until someone in the mail-order business changed the game. Shipping times got shorter, one to two weeks. Then five to seven business days. And, eventually we came to enjoy next-day service. Then we jump to today where we have Amazon testing two hour delivery by car or truck (in certain markets) and using autonomous vehicles to fulfill a record number of orders. And soon we’ll be seeing drones delivering our packages to our front doors.
Federal Express, which is now known as FedEx became the standard. Frederick Smith founded the company in 1971 as a cargo shipping company. Eventually he recognized the industry needed small package delivery, at a somewhat reasonable price. The slogan created back in 1982 by Ally & Gargano is still remembered today: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.
Kluge may have impressed me in the 1980s, but another company took it to another level back in the 1990s. That company was PC Mac Connection, based in New Hampshire. They sold computer accessories. I remember I needed to buy a modem for my computer. (There I go dating myself again.) I had just subscribed to AOL and needed that “high-speed” modem that connected through the phone lines. I was at dinner when my friend told me about the ultra-fast modem (that today would be considered as slow as a tortoise). I called PC Mac Connection at 11:00 at night. I didn’t ask for any expedited shipping, and was stunned when just nine hours later there was a knock on my door. It was the DHL shipping guy with my modem. Nine hours later!
So, how did they do it? Here is a peek behind the curtain.
I later learned that while PC Mac Connection is based in New Hampshire, their warehouse is in Ohio, near the DHL overnight facility. If a customer placed an order early enough to get picked and packed for shipping before the DHL planes took off for their destination, the package could literally arrive just hours later. By the way, UPS and FedEx have similar arrangements with their big customers.
PC Mac Connection had friendly and knowledgeable people who helped me on the phone. They also had a system that created an even stronger customer experience, which was tied to the shipping and delivery of the product. That behind-the-scenes operation enhanced an already good customer experience.
But, it’s not only the delivery. It’s what happening in the warehouse. I recently mentioned Amazon.com’s robots in an article. If you haven’t seen the video of these amazing little robots, check out the video. They are efficient, fast, accurate and safe.
And, recently, I had a chance to interview Jim Rock, the CEO of Seegrid, about the customer experience. His company makes robots of a different sort. Think of Amazon’s robots on steroids: Seegrid’s smart vehicles use 3D perception to safely haul goods from point A to point B in a busy warehouse. When I watched a video of his “robots” in action, I saw tractors and pallet trucks moving huge pallets of merchandise through a warehouse. At first glance, they looked like the typical industrial vehicles I’ve seen for years, except for one important difference: There was no driver!
The driverless forklifts, or vision guided vehicles, were doing all of this on their own. As they went through the aisles of the warehouse, they would stop for people and other driverless vehicles passing by. Turns out this technology was invented and designed by Dr. Hans Moravec, recognized as a robotics visionary. Dr. Moravec is a former professor and director of the Mobile Robot Lab at the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, where he worked for years developing the algorithms that power Seegrid’s autonomous vehicles.
So what does a robot have to do with the customer experience?
Speed isn’t always about a person reacting quickly. My “friends” at PC Mac Connection gave me friendly and fast service. But they couldn’t have done it without the behind-the-scenes system. Today, that system includes robots, like Seegrid’s vision guided vehicles, that not only make a warehouse more efficient (which puts money directly to the bottom line), but also improves the customer experience.
“Robots make companies more competitive by reducing the transport time for merchandise and saving on shipping costs that can be passed on to the customer,” says Rock. “Each time an autonomous robot moves a pallet of products it shaves precious time off the shipping process.” This means a company can get product to its customers faster. And, sometimes faster means a better customer experience.
Let’s switch to another company and a different type of system: Disney. I remember my first trip to Disney World in Orlando, FL. I also remember the lines. I was about 13 years old. While Disney arranged to have all of us anxious kids and their parents entertained while standing in those lines, with videos and occasional surprise visits from Mickey Mouse and friends, I still remember how long they were. Today Disney has what is known as the FastPass+. This is a system that allows their guests to make a reservation for their favorite rides and avoid long lines. (By the way, this service is free to all Disney guests.)
Be it a system of autonomous robots in the warehouse that gets a product to a customer faster, a system that moves people through lines quicker, an enthusiastic employee that wants to provide excellent service by responding and reacting quickly to a customer’s request, or any other process, system, or behavior that gets the customer what they want or need quicker, speed counts. It creates customer confidence. It can be a competitive differentiator. More importantly, it’s part of the customer experience.
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