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Staging Experiences & Engaging Customers


In my previous blog post on July 21st entitled Customer Experience Management, I postulated on the business imperatives for companies to conscientiously manage customer experience as a competitive advantage.  When we mention the phrase “customer experience management” the most common notion that comes to mind is customer entertainment. That understanding would have been too narrow a paradigm to allow many companies to explore other avenues of engaging customers in a way that would be memorable for them. A more useful and encompassing framework to understand the different dimensions of staging an engaging customer experience is required.

Both B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore in their book “The Experience Economy” observed that there are many dimensions to stage customer experience. There are two dimensions that are very influential in shaping how a customer is being engaged:

  1. Level of customer participation (active participation vs. passive participation) - To what extent is the customer playing an active role in influencing the performance. Is the customer the audience (“passive participation”) or a participant (“active participation”)?
  2. Environmental immersion (absorption vs. immersion) - To what extent is the customer immersed with the environment and performance. In his account of how Starbucks was built one cup of coffee at a time, Howard Shultz, founder of Starbucks, shared in his book “Pour Your Heart Into it: How Starbucks Built a company One Cup at a Time”, that his customers have come to regard Starbucks as the “third place” in their life where they could immerse themselves in the aroma (and romance) of roasted coffee beans (environmental immersion). Compare that with the occasion when one is completely enthralled watching a symphony orchestra from the grandstand (absorption).

Through the different combinations from the above two dimensions, both B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore came up with a very useful taxonomy on classifying four different and distinct realms of customer experience. Apart from the “entertainment experience” which we are most familiar with, both authors included insights into three other experience realms:

  1. The educational experience (absorption and active participation) - An experience where the customer becomes a “student” absorbing the event as it unfolds while at the same time actively participating and influencing the outcome. A classic example in a contact centre setting would be one where a customer service representative is taking a customer through a step-by-step process on how to activate a certain feature of their consumer electronic device, be it a mobile phone or an external storage drive. The pace and development of this educational experience is very much influenced by how the customer responds to the prompting from the customer service representative.
  2. The escapist experience (immersion and active participation) - Imagine sitting in one of the roller-coaster rides in a Disney theme park where you are both immersed in the environment and participating in the electrifying intensity and excitement of the ride.
  3. The esthetic experience (immersion and passive participation) -  For most customers at Starbucks, they enter a “third place” sipping exotic coffee such as macchiato in the café as they are immersed in the aroma of roasted coffee while remaining passive in not influencing the environment.

It is important to note that pursuance of the different realms of experience need not be mutually exclusive but could be considered concurrently.  In fact, according to the authors of this framework, the richest experience is one that encompasses all four realms.

How could your company leverage the above framework to explore avenues to stage a memorable and engaging customer experience? Looking forward to your views and insights.


Striking a Balance in Corporate Social Responsibility


Further to my previous article on corporate social responsibility (CSR), I read a recent Wall Street Journal article called “The Case against Corporate Social Responsibility” by Aneel Karnani that makes some interesting points relating to the dichotomy that shareholder interest and the public interest are at odds with each other.  Karnani’s thesis is that a company acts in the best interest of its shareholders rather than public interest and that there are few examples where profit and the public good are aligned. 

During the early stages of CSR in the sports footwear and apparel industries– when the first news reports came out of “sweatshops” and child labor–companies initially denied responsibility blaming subcontractors for the bad working conditions. One would assume that they believed taking responsibility would have cost the company more in manufacturing costs, however when more and more press came out and many advocacy groups began to protest outside stores, the companies began to take heed. The bottom line was that once the brand or sales were affected the company changed its approach and put in place stringent rules in cooperation with international bodies.

The article points out that there are four ways to strike a balance in CSR:

  1. Government regulation – governments can enforce rules & regulations to ensure companies comply with minimum standards.
  2. Advocate groups – can put pressure on brands to change practices.
  3. Self regulation – companies can internally regulate practices.
  4. Financial calculation – Where savings can be made, this will generate good CSR practice for example reduction in energy bills.

Although the article challenges some of the thinking around CSR, it also puts forward how it can and will work. The important thing for companies to keep in mind is that the CSR policy should be clear and any actions taken by the company are transparent, and it is not used to cover up or green wash other operations in the company.

What are your thoughts?


Cross-Functional Communication Fosters Innovation


InnovationInnovation is not a one-time effort. A structured process that crosses department lines should be embedded within an organization to support continuous innovation. Recently, I have had several conversations with colleagues and discussions at seminars on this very topic. I observed that companies still have difficulty developing innovative business solutions. Phrases I heard from discouraged persons included: “Other departments don’t understand what I want” and “These results are not in line with my expectations” and “we cannot sell what they created.” And when someone actually claimed successful innovation at their organization, upon closer inspection it became clear that there wasn’t really innovation, but rather just a better optimization.

eCommerce/e-Business Process Outsourcing (eBPO) triggers for innovation are: frequent implementation of new services, connecting to new/evolving markets, adapting to new lifestyles. For eBPO success, a state of constant business-model innovation is required and needs to be second nature.  In this industry, marketing, operations and IT are highly intertwined and cannot function independently of each other. Therefore, innovation can’t be the sole responsibility of an isolated R&D department. And with IT an integrated part of eBPO solutions, the IT department should be involved in the (business) innovation process as well. 

To make innovation possible in your organization, you need to bring all departments together with IT and engineering and enable them to work together. As more companies work with external (sourcing) partners or with globally spread departments, good planning and communication capabilities are paramount for all involved participants.

To organize this level of collaboration:

  • Select a moderator
  • Set clear expectations of the collective responsibilities
  • Marketing and sales should present on trends and changing client/customer needs
  • IT (internal and/or sourcing partners) should identify new technologies and capabilities
  • Allow all other functional group to focus on their area of expertise
  • Schedule recurring meetings for periodic reporting on progress and deliverables

When innovation is an integrated component of your eCommerce solution, it sets additional requirements in regard to your internal and external partners and your sourcing strategy. Is your preferred partner capable of coping with this constant change? Make sure you keep this mind when selecting a partner for your eCommerce solution. And once the partner has been chosen, it is preferable to define the collaboration on innovation in the contract and include the procedure in the statement of work

What processes do you have in place to support innovation in your organization?



What is the Most Important Consideration When Designing a Package?


I was in a client meeting recently when one of our Packaging Engineers was asked this question.  He accurately read the room and gave an answer that was appropriate for the context.  I think the most honest answer, however, is “it depends.” 

Like so many aspects of the value chain business, package design is an exercise in balancing a number of goals and priorities, including some that may conflict with one another.  The way to achieve this balance is through collaboration – between functions within an organization and among companies in the supply chain.  It’s no use solving primarily for out-of-box experience if the result is going to be detrimental to logistics costs.  Designing a package that lowers material costs and improves ease of manufacturability is great, but only if it meets retailer requirements for security.

We hear a great deal about a focus on sustainability in packaging, specifically, and in supply chain more generally.  Many companies are finding that sustainability and cost frequently work in tandem.  Improving the density of bulk packaging or using a postponement strategy to minimize the Asia-to-U.S. or Asia-to-Europe air freight component has a positive impact on both greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and freight costs.  Working together openly and collaboratively is the most reliable and effective way to achieve these goals.

What do you think is the most important consideration when designing a package? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Taiwan Supply Chain Perspectives - The Next Leap after the Global Downturn


I had the pleasure of participating in the 2010 CSCMP Taiwan conference this week with the above theme.  I must commend Mr. Terry Lee – Chairman of the CSCMP Taiwan Roundtable – and his team for hosting a superb event that was attended by several hundred supply chain executives, government representatives and academics from Taiwan, China and further afield.  

While nobody was declaring an end to the global downturn, the spirit of the event was a healthy discussion on what supply chain organizations have learned from the recession and the behaviors that they need to retain when the global economic situation improves.

Some of the key themes that struck me were the following:

  • While sustainability leadership is often perceived to be the domain of European and US companies, the sustainability message in Taiwan was evident. From the ‘D-Link green’ display at baggage claim in Taipei International airport, to the passionate presentation from Mr. Frank Lin – CQO with ASUSTek – about the progress that they have made in understanding and improving their carbon footprint, to the active engagement in the Q&A discussions, it is clear that sustainability has found a place on the strategic agenda in Taiwan.  
  • Changes that have been driven by the necessity of the recession may make for a healthier and more effective supply chain in the long term.
  • Companies have learned to live with lower inventories and can sustain this with improvements in collaboration within the organization and across the many tiers of the supply chain.
  • The focus of supply chain improvements has moved away from the singular race to the lowest cost economy to re-introduce lost habits of product innovation, packaging engineering, supply chain network optimization and process optimization. This is a long overdue trend.
  • The role of the logistics service provider has been challenged by the commoditization of transportation costs – made worse by capacity oversupply and the resulting price decline over the last 2 years. Strategic relationships have been sacrificed to the opportunities presented by RFQ’s to reduce short term transportation costs. The pictures of hundreds of ships moored off the coast of Singapore, having been taken out of use, is a visual reminder of the level of action that needed to be taken.  While the transportation costs are rapidly rebalancing with demand catching up on a reduced supply, the future value of strategic service provider relationships must lie with the ability to deliver supply chain innovation.
  • An interesting trend to watch over the next few years will be the developments following the recent signing of the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA) between China and Taiwan. While there is a sense that the agreement merely sets the stage for future changes to be implemented – simplifying trading relationships between China and Taiwan – it is an important first step. It will potentially increase access for Taiwan to a large and growing market on its doorstep and strengthen the existing linkages between Taiwan and China as their companies participate in the global supply chain.

Thank you again to my hosts and fellow participants in Taiwan.  It is always a positive and enlightening experience to participate in these discussions.   

Many of the observations have application across the global supply chain and I would like to open up the conversation to a broader audience.  Your thoughts…?



Postponement Strategies – Why Should You Care?


Optimized Product Configuration Video - Packaging PostponementWhen does it make sense to postpone the configuration of your products rather than complete as part of the manufacturing process?   Surely postponement is merely adding a step to the manufacturing process and this will increase costs? 
Clear your desk for a few moment and we will explore some postponement scenarios.  

Take two samples of the finished product that you are sending to retail or to a channel partner.  Now take one of these samples and open it and carefully separate all of the components on the desk in front of you – no need to get the screwdriver and soldering iron out just yet.

First let’s identify what makes your products unique in different markets or different channels.   Most likely this will be elements of packaging, some power supplies, perhaps casings or etchings on the device or maybe it is the firmware or content that is on the device.  These are the elements that drive SKU proliferation, forecast complexity and yet they are critical to the end user experience.  Perhaps your product design team has been at work and come up with some clever multi-lingual documentation, packaging and multi region power supply.   So they solved the SKU complexity issue by adding additional cost to every product.  Could postponement be a viable alternative?

Next let’s group together components from most expensive to least expensive.  For the consumer electronics device players out there (and maybe many others) I am guessing that you will have a group containing your core product, perhaps the battery and an expensive accessory that represent 80%+ of the cost.   You will have another grouping of documentation, labels, packaging and shrink wrap that are your lowest cost items and somewhere in between you have a clunky pile of some power supplies, cables and other hardware.

If you notice that the items that drive SKU complexity are the same ones that are in the lowest cost piles or a combination of those items and perhaps a content load, or flashing, or etching process on the expensive items then you may be on to something?  By adding in these cheaper components early you are tying up expensive product potentially in the wrong configuration.  Could a postponement strategy provide an alternative?

Take another look at those cost piles and think about the lead time required to produce each item.  When manufacturing whole unit items you will frequently commit the final configuration at the point of order of the goods – often 3-4 months ahead of demand.  Yet the lead time for many of the variable components is less than a week.   Could a postponement strategy help defer these decisions until closer to demand?

Now, think about how you ship your product to retail and other channel partners.  Did I hear you say you ship product ship via air?  Ding…ding…ding…ding!  Step up -  you may have just hit the jackpot.  For many devices the 80% of components in the expensive pile represents less than 40% of the weight of the product that you are flying around the world.  Could a postponement strategy provide an alternative?

Oh – you ship on the ocean!  Sorry – not the ultimate jackpot for you - unless of course you find yourself with high levels of finished goods to support your sales or rework to change configuration to what is truly required or frequent challenges to fill large orders.  Sound familiar?  You know the chant by now: Could a postponement strategy …?

Postponement may not be right for your product and your situation, but it is only when you look to the content of your product and challenge the way things are done today that you can really identify the possibilities.  All the customer cares about is getting that fully packaged product from the retail shelf when they are ready to buy.   Could a postponement strategy help you do this more efficiently?  

These were some of the questions that inspired us some years ago to create ‘this’ short video.  Enjoy!


Supply Chain Strategies for Emerging Countries – India


Map of IndiaSupply chain expansions into emerging economies, such as India, can be quite challenging. Different topography and unique conditions require special and innovative solutions. 

When I choose to challenge my palate by trying out an ethnic cuisine in a new restaurant, let’s say a new Thai restaurant, noticing the presence of Thai people in the restaurant enjoying the food provides a level of comfort and assurance. Why? It’s pretty simple: native people accustomed to good-quality Thai food would only go there if they think if the food is authentic (as opposed to an Americanized version) and the food is good by their discerning standards.

Federal Express (FedEx) was probably thinking along the same lines when it launched its operations in India back in 1997 by establishing a small presence in four metro cities as Step 1 of their entry strategy into the Indian market. 

In 2002, after five years in the Indian market, while pursuing an aggressive expansion strategy (Step 2) they decided to partner with two local companies: Prakash Airfreight and Jeena & Co.  Prakash Airfreight was at that time one of the largest domestic courier and delivery services companies in India while Jenna & Co. was one of the largest customs brokers in the country. This alliance provided FedEx with access to a century of local experience and significant additional warehousing space and nationwide customs clearance capabilities. As a result of this successful partnership, FedEx was able to establish its presence in one of the world’s fastest growing and complex economies in a low-risk manner.

Step 3 followed in 2007 when Fedex acquired Prakash Air Freight, which added a network of 384 depots and offices and allowed them to serve more than 4,400 destinations and gain control of the supply chain.

FedEx wouldn’t have been able to grow and gain the same experience in the short timeframe within the Indian market without a localized strategy to first learn the unique challenges and opportunities of the Indian market.  Starting small and partnering with a significant local player gave FedEx the same level of comfort as the non-Thai person gets walking into that restaurant that is patronized by natives.

Companies thinking of entering emerging countries with unique challenges should consider the following:

  1. Adopting local operational strategies and realizing that even the most successful and proven strategies in the developed world will not work in an emerging country if implemented in a “plug and play” fashion.
  2. Leveraging local business acumen and knowledge by selecting the right partner.
  3. Tailoring best -in-class processes to serve local and specific needs of the emerging market.
  4. Following a phased approach to strengthen physical presence and add value added services and solution offerings.

Do you have similar examples of unique supply chain and logistical innovations adopted by companies in new geographies?


Source:  CSCMP Global Perspectives – India Report 2009


eBay Shines (Green) Light on Tech For Less


Tech For Less (TFL), a ModusLink company, was recently spotlighted by the eBay Green Team for taking action to ensure environmental responsibility through its business model, which is to give products a second life by refurbishing and reselling open box, overstock or liquidated consumer electronics. The Green Team was also attracted to TFL’s own corporate environmental efforts, like reducing the amount of fuel used for operations and delivery and working with local recyclers to maximize e-waste that can’t be resold.

With the economic recovery trudging along, consumer demand for refurbished products that cost less, but still deliver high-quality features and functionality is on the rise.  Many of the products found on eBay, and through other alternative channels are just a few revisions behind the latest and greatest found on the leading retailers’ shelves.  And some are the very same products you can find at your local big box store, due to strict restocking policies for open-box returns.  As consumers seek ways to save money and become more aware of their individual impact on the environment, selling refurbished product is a win-win for both the manufacturer and for Mother Nature.

TFL is part of the Green Team’s 225,000 member community, which consists of buyers, sellers and eBay employees focused on making eBay a greener company.

Click here to read TFL’s Green Team spotlight.

How does your company participate in environmental responsibility?


Protecting Your Brand with Corporate Social Responsibility


Mineral Mine - Corporate Social ResponsibilityIn recent days we have seen celebrities appear in trials related to conflict diamonds. This reminded me of the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Over the last number of years, the conflict diamonds issue has transformed the diamond industry’s supply chain introducing new processes such as theKimberley Process. The Kimberley process is a certification program that ensures diamonds are conflict free. It involves all of the key stakeholders in the industry, including governments, mining companies, and civil society organizations. It assures 99% of all diamonds on the market are conflict free, tracing them back to the mine and country of origin.

In the consumer electronics industry, there has been widespread publicity related to conflict minerals, these include cobalt, tantalum & tin. These minerals form the key components in most consumer electronic products. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the location where most of the concern has been raised. To address the issue, the U.S. government has introduced the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (also known as the Financial Reform Act), which requests companies that are registered on the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) to publicly disclose their tax and revenue payments to governments around the world.

“This disclosure will deter the corruption which has brought deep poverty and conflict to many resource-rich countries. The Act will also require companies whose products contain cassiterite(tin ore), coltan, wolframite and gold to disclose to the SEC whether they are sourcing these minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or adjoining countries. Companies will have to detail the measures they have taken to avoid sourcing these minerals from DRC armed groups, which are guilty of massacres and other atrocities.  The bill also requires that all information disclosed be independently audited.”  (Source: Global Witness)

One industry group that is taking action in respect to conflict minerals is the Electronics Industry Citizen Coalition (EICC). This group recently published a report called “A Study of the Challenges of the Supply Chain for Target Metals Used in Electronics.” This report outlines some of the complexities in the supply chain and use of multiple suppliers. It makes some recommendations to begin pilot programs in the DRC to begin certain types of certifications programs.

There is no doubt that this subject will become ever more important in the coming months, as no company wishes to have their brand tarnished, and more importantly, be linked in any way to atrocities. So what steps can a company take to ensure transparency in the supply chain? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Understand the key suppliers in the supply chain (tier 1,2 & 3).
  2. Create a CSR document outlining the company’s core values.
  3. Create awareness among the key suppliers, and more importantly, provide support and training to help them with their own audit processes.
  4. Audit your supply chain internally or utilize an independent organization to complete audits with experience in the field.
  5. Be open with findings and be clear with any changes or improvements that need to be made.
  6. Recycle more! By taking back or recycling old consumer products this will reduce the need for mining the minerals directly.

The importance of corporate social responsibility cannot be over emphasized. Over the years there have been many cases where brands have been damaged (BP!). Do you foresee any further challenges in the consumer electronics supply chain related to CSR?


Keep Customer Satisfaction and the Order Lifecycle in Sync


Sally Spender - Order ManagementCustomers today want access to order information – fast. The most effective way for companies to accomplish this is to provide both customers and customer service representatives with visibility into the complete order lifecycle. This is a sure-fire way to attract new customers and retain existing ones.

Meet Sally Spender. Sally is the star of our new order management e-Book, but she may also be your potential customer. Getting to know Sally is an integral step in the order lifecycle, and her satisfaction – or lack of satisfaction – could greatly impact your profits and your brand.

ModusLink’s new e-Book, Synchronizing Customer Satisfaction and the Order Lifecycle to Solve the Order Management Puzzle provides helpful tips that can fuel your pursuit of the “perfect order” while identifying common pitfalls along the way.

Our e-Book covers the following topics:

  • The impact customer satisfaction has on your brand
  • The complete order management lifecycle
  • Tips to create a dynamic Web store
  • The importance of empowering contact center reps
  • And more

We’d like to hear your thoughts:

  1. Do you think it’s important to get to know Sally?
  2. How do you manage the order lifecycle?


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Download the e-Book.



Spot Rate for Freight Shipping Rises to a Five Year High


Blog   Shipping Container small resized 600According to a recent article in the New York Times, freight shipping rates are at a five-year high . “The cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Hong Kong to Los Angeles without a contract, or the spot rate, was about $871 in July 2009, a five-year low. In July of 2010, that spot rate reached $2,624, a five-year high.”  To further add to the challenge is that beginning in the month of August, each container will be hit with a ‘PSS’ or Peak Season Surcharge that we estimate will add another $500 - $700. And, as indicated in this article, even at these premium rates, there is no guarantee your product will arrive on time.

I am not at all surprised at this swing because for all intents and purposes, transportation for goods is price inelastic.  When the global economy was in shambles over the last several years, transportation carriers significantly cut back.  They grounded planes, held boats at port and scaled to match supply with then current demand.  Now that demand is back on the rise, they are recouping losses because the price elasticity of demand for the foreseeable future is in their favor.  Once the supply of container ships, planes and other forms of transportation catch back up to generate equilibrium, businesses will likely see prices back at their averages.  That said: I don’t expect stabilization to take place any time soon.



Supply Chain Initiatives to Reduce Overall GHG Footprint


Reduce Carbon EmissionsBeing the optimist that I am, I do believe that we are only a short time away from having carbon emissions data labeled on products so that the energy-conscious consumer can make intelligent choices.  I also believe that carbon accounting will gain prominence in performance scorecards across the supply chain. In fact, my colleague Sean Sabre recently blogged about his participation in an ISO committee to develop global standards for sustainable packaging.  But until these standards and labels are defined, there are three increasingly popular measures that can significantly impact the overall GHG footprint of the end to end supply chain.

Network Redesign

Reorganizing the overall supply chain network can not only optimize the network in terms of delivery time and cost, but also greatly reduce overall GHG emissions. Companies are now achieving their cost, service and environmental objectives by utilizing powerful supply chain optimization and simulation tools which provide actionable, decision-making information. Some network design measures that can reduce GHG emissions are:

  • Postponement strategies related to sourcing, manufacturing and logistics, which reduce overall GHG emissions, primarily by reducing inventory levels and waste and by reducing the distance travelled on a weight/volume basis to the end consumer. 
  • Adding distribution centers to shorten average distance to the consumer and operate fewer trucks (resulting in reduced GHG level from driving less trucks and shorter distances).
  • Long hauls made with more environmental friendly methods such as rail as opposed to trucks.

Alternative Transportation Solutions

Land transportation has a significant impact on the environment, accounting for 11% of  global GHG emission. The freight sector has launched multiple initiatives to identify and utilize environmentally friendly and more fuel efficient transportation solutions to reduce the GHG footprint.

One such initiative is the SmartWay collaboration, which is a unique partnership between the government (U.S. EPA) and the business sector to utilize products and services that are aimed at not just reducing overall fuel consumption, but also overall GHG emissions.

In the United Kingdom, the ‘Freight Best Practice’ program provides information and support for measures such as driver training and aerodynamics, and more effective loading, routing and scheduling in order to improve fuel economy, hence providing simultaneous economic and environmental benefits (Source: Department for Transport (UK),2009b)

Other measures and opportunities for improving the sustainability of freight transport and logistics that are currently being used include:

  • Mode shift
  • Intermodality
  • Intelligent transport systems
  • Information and communication technologies
  • Integrating forward and reverse logistics
  • Transportation infrastructure

In my opinion, if we are to maximize the potential of these options, there will need to be a constant minimum level of investment in research and development, as well as a push to incentivize behavior change in areas such as choice of transportation mode.

Alternative Energy Solutions

Renewable energies accounted for 60% of newly installed power capacity in Europe in 2009, and nearly 20% of annual power production. Nuclear, hydro and wind power have far less greenhouse emissions than the traditional energy sources such as coal, gas, thermal etc.

In the supply chain arena, considerable work is being done to solve problems associated with alternative energy, including cost, weight, effective range and battery life of electric vehicles. However, urban distribution should see a significant role being played by these fuels in the future. The availability and feasibility of the components and infrastructure required in order to make the alternative energy solutions practical on a mass scale need to be considered.

As we move along the maturation cycle of implementing a sustainable approach into the very core of our corporate culture--and as long as reducing the GHG footprint in the supply chain is seen as a “nice to have” and a cost driver, instead of a “Big Bang” approach at trying to switch to a “fully” sustainable supply chain--we have a far better chance of introducing measures like the ones highlighted above into our supply chain to gradually but surely reduce our impact on the environment.


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