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GUEST COMMENT Why it’s time for retailers to start treating drivers as brand ambassadors  

Image: Monkey Business/Shutterstock

Alex Buckley is general manager of EMEA and APAC operations at DispatchTrack

Earlier this year, it became crystal clear that most of the supply chain challenges that defined 2021 weren’t going anywhere. Shortages of labour, and of delivery drivers in particular, put added pressure on retailers that were already dealing with manufacturing delays, container shortages, and rising costs in almost every area.

As we approach the end of the year and begin tentatively looking towards 2023, the outlook isn’t much changed. And, in fact, huge increases in cost of living have only made life more challenging for businesses that are increasingly fighting to retain customers in spite of rising prices and numerous delivery hurdles.

Of course, retailers are already finding new and creative ways to respond to these challenges. John Lewis Partnership, for instance, offered free meals to its staff from October through to the beginning of January to help with the cost-of-living crisis. This strategy includes the thousands of seasonal workers who help them meet increased holiday demand across its sales channels (workers who might typically be subject to extremely high rates of churn). It also includes workers across their supply chain, such as warehouse staff and delivery drivers.

Still other retailers are trying different tactics to fight rising costs and mitigate the labour shortage. Recently, we’ve seen the beginning of a trend around turning delivery drivers into brand ambassadors. From our perspective, this has the potential to be one of the most impactful strategies retailers can leverage to retain drivers and ensure delighted customers in spite of very real challenges. Here’s why.

What makes a great customer delivery experience?

For starters, let’s talk a little bit about what makes for a great customer delivery experience, and why it matters. At this point, anyone who’s making purchases online or in store knows that global supply chains are volatile and unpredictable. That means that retailers need to find ways at every stage of the fulfilment process to earn customers’ trust and inspire confidence that they’re going to keep their delivery promises. All of this comes to a head on the actual day of delivery, when consumers expect their orders to arrive on time, and they expect quick problem-solving if everything doesn’t go exactly according to plan. 

Most of the important details here actually come down to your drivers. They’re the ones who are executing delivery routes in order to arrive on time at the customer’s home; they’re the ones who are actually interacting with the customer; and they’re the ones who have to attend to customer needs on the spot, such as to return an item or upgrade to a different service level (e.g. requiring an installation in addition to just the delivery). This requires not just courtesy and professionalism on the part of drivers, but also the ability to be flexible and adaptable based on whatever situations arise. 

Drivers vs brand ambassadors 

What we’re describing above might not seem like an impossible ask for most delivery organisations. But too often, drivers aren’t given the tools to provide a great customer experience. Drivers are more likely to be blamed when things go wrong than given credit when things go right. That’s exactly where the change in mindset from drivers to brand ambassadors becomes so crucial. 

There’s no doubt that delivery drivers have a huge impact on making sure that customers perceive your brand in a positive light, which is why it’s so crucial to empower them to provide the best possible brand experience. What does this look like in practice?

  • Giving drivers realistic routes: on-time deliveries are crucial to customer satisfaction, which is why it’s so important to make sure that your drivers are dispatched routes with ETA promises that they can actually meet. 
  • Connecting drivers with customers: great delivery experiences require you to keep customers in the loop throughout the entire process and provide continuous real-time information, something that drivers are uniquely positioned to offer if they’re empowered to send alerts and updates with the click of a button.
  • Providing drivers with flexibility: no one wants to be in a position where the customer is unhappy and they feel like there’s nothing they can do to help, but all too often, that’s the scenario drivers find themselves in when a customer wants to exchange an item or process an on-the-spot return.

When drivers are “just” drivers, businesses often don’t equip them with everything they need for success. More than that, they sometimes fail to make drivers feel like the crucial team members that they are. But when you start to think of them, and treat them, as brand ambassadors, you can make the importance of their contribution and the value you place on them much clearer. 

In this way, you can improve job satisfaction and decrease turnover among drivers, effectively helping to mitigate the impact of the driver shortage. No mean feat in a position that tends to have incredibly high churn. 

Best practices for empowering your drivers

You might argue that turning drivers into brand ambassadors in the way that we’re describing is much easier said than done. But retailers who approach their last mile deliveries with the right tools and the right processes can actually make this happen without breaking the bank. 

Here’s a few best practices for setting your drivers up to provide great customer service, and setting yourself up for improving driver retention while elevating your brand:

  • Leverage AI to accurately predict ETAs: calculating ETAs for deliveries accurately by hand or with legacy routing technology can be an impossible task, that’s why utilising intelligent technology that can learn from previous deliveries is a must. 
  • Ensure photo proof of delivery: Your drivers want to be able to provide a clear record of every delivery to show off their hard work and flag potential areas for follow-up. When drivers are empowered with the ability to record pictures at every delivery site, that’s exactly what happens. 
  • Give drivers flexibility at the jobsite: when drivers can process returns on site and make other updates to customer orders as needed, they can maximise customer happiness even when things don’t go exactly according to plan.
  • Provide customers with total visibility into deliveries: this is largely a matter of setting the driver up to be a welcome sight rather than an inconvenient surprise, but if you’re offering customers a live delivery tracking portal, you can even show a photo and some info about your driver to help humanise your brand. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the cost-of-living crisis, the driver shortage, or the various supply chain crises facing retailers right now. But by empowering drivers to act as brand ambassadors, you can go a long way towards retaining your delivery staff, delighting your customers, and ultimately weathering the economic storm. 

Alex Buckley is general manager of EMEA and APAC operations at DispatchTrack

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