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Get SMART: the future of eCommerce customer service

shipment delivery proactive notification

Get SMART: the future of eCommerce customer service

Delivery is now one of the key performance indicators of eCommerce sites for most consumers. They don’t know it, but they are more inclined to look at the rapidity of delivery when faced with a choice of vendors online.

If proof be needed, look no further than Amazon Prime and ASOS. Amazon Prime, while a loyalty scheme of sorts, is chosen by many shoppers purely because Prime Members get ‘next day’ delivery on Prime sellers. ASOS, meanwhile, has signed up millions of its customers to a membership scheme that, for £9.99 a month, guarantees next day delivery.
Across Europe this is becoming more common. Spanish camping store chain Decathlon has recently started to offer its consumers two-hour delivery and many others are looking to follow suit. In fact, a growing move towards direct to consumer (DTC) shipping of goods – often on a subscription basis for things such as washing powder and other utilities – again puts delivery front and centre for more brands.
However, as competition becomes fiercer around delivery times, another factor comes into play: tracking. While shoppers want rapid delivery, they also want to know where their goods are, when they are likely to come and, where possible, to be able change and adapt their delivery options on the fly.
They also want to make sure that, should anything go wrong, they are kept informed and packages are easily redirected and still arrive quickly.
As Prime Day this year will no doubt attest, delivery is going to start to be a key differentiator and knowing when your package is going to arrive – and what state it might be in – is now a must for consumers. They want it and they want it now and they want a great experience.
While this is an easy ask on behalf of the consumer, for the shipper it is a big deal – a big deal that needs a smart solution.

Getting proactive

To provide great customer experience with delivery these days, the name of the game is proactivity. Being on top of what is going to happen and trying to amend it or work around it, is now key. Reacting to events is not enough, you need to pre-empt them as best you can.
In delivery, this means constantly being aware of what might go wrong or awry and either trying to pre-empt it, or more likely come up with a solution to that problem so that the delivery either stays on track or the customer is informed – and ideally can react themselves and be able to amend how they want that delivery to take place.
A lot can happen to packages out there as they wing their way to their customers or when they arrive at their door. The most common is that they are either refused, damaged or undelivered. The address could also be ‘unfound’, or the owner gone away. The goods not having been ordered in the first place is, surprisingly, also a very common occurrence with delivery.
Understanding, proactively, the likelihood of this happening to a particular package is now key to mitigating delivery disasters. So how do you do it?

Getting smart

In short to make it work needs technology. Tracking of packages already exists, with parcels scanned at various stages as they move from warehouse to shipper to consumer. The clever bit comes in how to use this information not just to tick off a packages progress, but to also see what is happening to it.
Applying intelligence to how this ‘journey’ is analysed holds the key to offering a proactive way to pre-empt what might be happening to that package as it transits the system. As anomalies arise in its progress, where hold ups may occur and even where it may be damaged.
One way to do it is to look at how Parcelhub’s tracking support solution works. Here, a third party can really help track packages from order right the way through the shipping process and to the door – and react to what then happens.
There are two prongs to this process. Firstly, there is the SMART Notifications platform that can inform agents as to what is happening with smart – and rapid – messaging so that proactive – or fast reactive – action can be taken.
Secondly, there is the carrier management platform. This is what allows the company to track packages and handle what then happens. In practice, this means that any package put into the system can be tracked on its whole journey.
The crux of being proactive lies in ‘courier mapping’. Here, every single scan a parcel or package receives as it transits from order to warehouse to shipper to last mile to doorstep can be monitored, regardless of carrier or vendor. This allows the carrier management company to spot anomalies where they occur and step in to correct problems and/or inform the customer as to what is happening.
To do this requires smart technology, a lot of processing power and a team of dedicated agents to keep track of what is happening to packages and being able to react appropriately.
For instance, a failed delivery can often mean a card through the letterbox and a repeat attempt at delivery before the package returns to the warehouse. Tracking this could initiate a different outcome, allowing the user to define where they want to package redirected to and when.
In fact, as the technology gains popularity, it may see shoppers able to tell carriers that they won’t be there, avoiding the problem altogether – but that is for another day.
Using artificial intelligence (AI) and good old fashioned human monitoring, it becomes possible to expect the unexpected by understanding what is happening to an order and to react to that to overcome any potential problems. As an example, a customer wants to change the delivery address on the fly: usually they can’t. They ask, but the carrier says no. This is increasingly no longer acceptable.
Using technology, however, it starts to become more feasible to make this happen. By being able to pin-point where the package is, it may now be possible to get that shipping end-point amended while in transit.
It isn’t easy – and it is still in its infancy – but it is starting to become possible, and it could have huge implications for shippers and retailers a like. It could also make customers happy.

Getting results

So, what does all this mean in practice? Why should online retailers and other sellers look to a third party to offer proactive tracking of their packages?
The obvious reason is that it makes your brand stand out – if you are the vendor that offers such tracking of packages, and more importantly remediation when things go awry, shoppers are going to come back. They are also going to recommend you to other people.
It also improves seller ratings and positive feedback from consumers and enhances carrier experience – all things that are going to help customers recommend you as a vendor to others.
On a more practical level it saves time and money. Helping to avoid return to sender and customer service chasing enquiries, by getting to the issue faster. Similarly, with ‘unable to locate’ locations, it could easily instigate a quick call to the customer to help find their location or hard to find address – as any driver knows, sat nav isn’t always on it – and get the package delivered.
It could also, potentially, help carriers and retailers handle returns, working requests for returns into the tracking process, so that pickups can, perhaps, be integrated into delivery runs, creating operational efficiencies and better customer experience.

Getting to the future

The current role of proactive tracking is, while sophisticated, still very much in its infancy. The birth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile technology have begun to make it possible to understand more precisely where a package is and what state it is in at any given point.
But this is only the start. DHL has studied how to make this modelling even more precise to create real time models of all package movements. By embedding sensors in each and every package in a network, it says logistics managers can create ‘digital twins’, digital models of the supply network that are updated in real time.
In this way, its study concludes, a carrier or third party could monitor in real time exactly where a package was, as well as monitor for damage or contamination.
However, the report noted that cost would be a potential obstacle. It also pointed out the difficulty in achieving a perfect representation of a physical asset through the digital counterpart as well as potential issues with data quality.
It also highlighted a potential lack of staff expertise and interoperability between systems as well as potential issues around IP protection and cyber security.
DHL said the market for digital twins is expected to grow more than 38% each year, passing the $26 billion mark by 2025.
Matthias Heutger, SVP, global head of innovation and commercial at DHL, has the last word: “Digital twins offer unparalleled capabilities to track, monitor, and diagnose assets. They will change traditional supply chains, with a range of options to facilitate data-driven decision making and collaboration, streamlined business processes, and new business models. We are keen to work with our customers and partners to jointly explore applications in our industry.”


The watchword with all this is ‘customer service’. Delivery is now a key differentiator among brands and retailers and consumers not only now want it ASAP, they want to be able to say where and when then want it precisely. This may not always be ASAP, but the new challenge is that they may change that location or time on the fly.
Similarly, understanding where a package is in the process is key to not only delivering the levels of customer services expected, but also to efficient logistics for deliverers.
And technology holds the key: tracking tech is already in place to better understand where a package is in the system. Using people, AI and platforms that can pull together all the data allows carriers and carrier management companies to get a much better view of each package and start to predict what is going to happen to it and how to be ready to deal with that.
Predicting the future is always difficult, but it is clear that the future of delivery lies in predicting the future of what is happening to each individual package.

Watch this video to find out how Parcelhub’s proactive tracking support helps this £30 million turnover manufacturer, importer and online retailer increase delivery performance:



About Parcelhub – Part of the Whistl Group

Save time and money. Increase delivery performance. Enhance customer experience.
Parcelhub is a bespoke and proactive multi-carrier delivery management solution. Flexible and scalable, its services integrate seamlessly with Linnworks, providing hundreds of multi-channel retailers, global brands and wholesalers with one access point to 20+ carriers and 600+ services.
Distributing more than 6 million parcels on its own carrier contracts every year, Parcelhub’s free multi-carrier shipping software grants hundreds of national and global businesses access to ‘pooled volume’ discounted rates from its carefully selected range of carrier partners, including Hermes, Yodel DPD, DHL, UPS, DX, Parcelforce, CollectPlus, SkyNet, ArrowXL, Interpost, Panther Logistics, Direct Link and Palletforce. Dedicated proactive parcel management comes as standard.
cross border shipping solutions for ecommerce retailersParcelhub is part of the Whistl Group. Whistl is the leading delivery management company enabling customers to get their letters, leaflets or parcels to customers efficiently and cost effectively both in the UK and internationally. It is headquartered in Marlow with 8 depots and 2 fulfilment centres across the UK handling 3.8bn items a year. The company is privately held with over 1,500 employees and a turnover in excess of £600m. It has grown significantly over the years and is now expanding its presence in the eCommerce sector offering fulfilment services to customers through a seamless experience from first click to final delivery.

Paul Skeldon

Contributing Editor at Parcelhub - Part of the Whistl Group

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