Seamless Integration across Communication Platforms Helps Remove Supply Chain Friction and puts Customers First

Opinion Piece: By Andrew Dawson, MD of MACmobile

The route to market in South Africa, and Africa in general, faces unique challenges around line of sight, specifically relating to technology. One of these is the fact that there are multiple levels of distribution, from the wholesalers that run large database systems to the spaza shop owners that often run their businesses on paper and with a cash economy. This makes end-to-end line of sight difficult to achieve. To maximise returns, distributors need to be flexible in the methods they use to engage with their customers. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to such a diverse market, but seamless integration and consistent messaging is critical in removing communication as a friction point in the supply chain, while ensuring that the customer comes first throughout the process.

Levels of technology
Many providers are focusing on delivering cutting-edge apps that allow retailers to create a business environment that can easily manage stock, sales, and other features. But these communication platforms are only relevant to retailers that have access to a smartphone and a data connection. If distributors focus their efforts solely on this, they risk alienating the main market, which is a significant portion of their sales.

A solution that incorporates Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) into the platform can be useful, because it does not require a smart phone, a data connection or a web browser. In addition, for distributors looking to drive sales and engagement, a call centre can still be highly effective to target all customers in the market. The key is to ensure consistent messaging across the various communication channels, which is the end goal of an omnichannel communication strategy. However, it is essential to understand that creating such a strategy is not just about throwing the latest technology at the problem and ‘having an app’. Instead, it is about having different layers of technology that enable distributors to engage with and meet the changing needs of their retailers, ensuring that various customer groups are being satisfied.

Consistent and seamless
The ultimate goal is customer-centric seamless integration, from the manufacturer through to the wholesaler, the bulk-breaker and even last mile delivery that takes stock to merchants. Each touchpoint should resonate the same look and feel, the same messaging and the same engagement style, so that no matter how a merchant chooses to engage with the channel, everything is consistent.

Aside from creating a smoother communication system that helps to remove a common point of friction from the chain, consistent messaging and seamless integration also allows for integration of data. All parts of the platform work off the same data, providing the same view of the customer, and giving the customer the same view of the product or brand.

Partners for success
Irrespective of the layer of technology retailers use, distributors require a single solution that enables them to deliver consistent messaging around products, pricing, loyalty and strategy, from a single engagement. This is key to generating a return and growing a successful and prosperous customer base, from large retailers to the main market. They also need a solution that breaks down data siloes and provides access to all of the data and intelligence that is coming out of the distribution chain.

Partnering with the right technology provider is essential in bringing together these various data sets, centralising them and enabling a single pool of data as well as a consistent messaging strategy irrespective of the technology layer. The right partner will also ensure that the value of voice communication is not underestimated as omnichannel communication is not just about apps, data and enterprise-grade solutions. In the South African market, a phone call is a massively powerful communication tool, and it is also an extremely cost effective one.

The key is to make it easy for retailers to engage in conversation through the medium they want to, when they need to, and that is preferred by their market. This is the foundation of creating frictionless engagement, which in turn is essential in ensuring that retailers are buying distributors’ products. Furthermore, this ensures customers are being put first at every stage of the supply chain and their needs and changing demands are constantly being catered for. An omnichannel strategy should focus not necessarily on technology, but on making it easier to engage with customers, ultimately making it easier to trade. This will create a new focus that will ultimately drive up sales.