Improving the Customer Experiences’ First & Last Miles/Kms

Aug 23, 2016

High quality Customer Experiences depends on how easily customers navigate the first and last miles of kilometers (kms) of their buying journeys, from initial engagements to products’ receipt. With today’s businesses facing highly competitive markets and rising customer expectations how successfully they enable their customers on these as well as on all of the other journey legs can make or break them.

As Frost & Sullivan’s, eCommerce, omnichannel retail, and web personalization Market Insights report, customer journeys now typically begin online and are staying there longer.  Customers are purchasing more complex, personalized, and higher valued products also through their mobile devices, including while in stores. Driving the trend is a virtuous combination of evolving powerful solutions, maturing implementation best practices, and rising customers’ expectations of convenient, rich, and swift any channel and device interactions. At the same time, companies are gradually seeing their labor costs rise with the improving economy and retiring workforces according to a recent Frost & Sullivan Market Insight on HR/HCM. As a result, automated voice and text channel customer interactions are gradually becoming the norm and live agent conversations the exception.

Companies generally understand the value of supplying excellent online Customer Experiences. Consequently they have paying more attention to, or at the very least investigating personalized and mode-responsive web/mobile, chat, SMS/text, voice, and IoT solutions, lest they face being left behind. But where the first mile/km journey often breaks down is where and when customers have to interact with the contact center. There are still unacceptable instances of poor agent service and failed handoffs with automated systems. Yet their criticality is rising, ironically enough, from the growing power of self-service. Customers understandably now expect higher quality “smarter than the machine” assistance when they contact agents.

At the other end of the customer journey, companies have been honing doorstep delivery for well over a century. The mail-order catalog that provided rural residents and businesses with goods that their big city counterparts bought in person and delivered directly from the factory or warehouse paved that road. Ironically it is at-home buying i.e. eCommerce that is in ascendance, again driven by new solutions and customer convenience, resulting in many brand name retailers closing stores or going out of business.

But there have been growing pains on the last mile/km, such as missed deliveries, parcel thefts, and long and hassle-ridden returns handling.  When customers encounter problems they reach out to the companies online, and failing that the contact centers to resolve them, thereby bringing the Customer Experience journey full circle.

To stay competitive companies must make every effort to ensure highly satisfying customer journeys on both legs.  That also includes a hardened security-first approach to every facet of their businesses particularly those involving their customers. Setting expectations and delivering goods that match minimize customer contacts and product returns.

Further, companies should investigate advanced agent recruiting, training and learning, and performance management methods and tools. They also should shift the customer service operations from traditional centers to hiring experienced and knowledgeable agents who work at home and look at innovative methods like connecting web customers to retail sales associates.

As automated applications become smarter businesses should look at the old answering service model where agents merely triage customer contacts, but connect them to subject matter experts (SMEs) with UC systems. Eventually the self-service applications will interface directly with SMEs.

In turn companies who sell higher-end goods should transform their stores from merely shopping into engaging experiences and provide a full range of service and support. They should also consider another old practice that being revived and that is the storefront catalog showroom for order pickup, trying on apparel, repairs, and returning goods. It is evolving to become webrooming for a growing number of prominent eCommerce businesses. Coupled with new tools such as 3D printing to make customized goods and virtual fitting rooms they promise to become the next generation of truly omnichannel retailers who pave the road for more satisfying and profitable customer journeys.

Brendan Read


Brendan Read is Senior Industry Analyst with over 25 years’ experience covering business, communications, staffing, and technology. He has worked in, prepared reports, and blogged on a wide range of topics including customer contact, CX, CRM, IoT, social media, supply chain, and BC/DR. He also has backgrounds in construction, manufacturing, materials, resource extraction, site selection, and transportation. He examines the broad economic, environmental, innovation, political, and social mega trends, and their impacts on businesses, markets, and society.

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