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What Is a Responsive Supply Chain and How Can Your Company Build One?

responsive supply chain

Managing global supply chains is more complicated than ever before. With so many variables and growing consumer demand for speedy delivery, many companies spend extensive resources creating more efficient supply chains. But what about responsiveness? Is your supply chain equipped to quickly respond to and solve unexpected global and local issues?

Why is having a responsive supply chain so important?

Quite simply, it is hard to compete in today’s ever-evolving marketplace without a highly responsive supply chain. Consumers have grown accustomed to being able to change orders, make easy returns, communicate easily with vendors, and access products when and where they want them. These variables require a flexible and responsive supply chain structure. Without a responsive supply chain, it is difficult to gain and keep customers in such a competitive environment.

What is a responsive supply chain?

The goal of a responsive supply chain is for it to be agile enough to quickly respond to issues and changing customer needs while at the same time maintaining efficiency. A few signs of a successfully responsive supply chain are:

Orders are consistently filled accurately

Orders are fulfilled consistently, accurately, and quickly. The customer is never left with a wrong item or wondering what happened to an order.

Delivery is easily scaled

A responsive supply chain caters to differing levels of demand for products during different seasons, economic climates, etc. It is prepared to adapt to any shifts and get consumers the products they want when they want them.

Efficient communication

The company has a quickly responsive and accurate line of communication open for consumers to utilize.

Customer satisfaction

A responsive supply chain should create happier customers. Customers have higher levels of satisfaction when they can ask questions, easily return items, change their orders, check an order status, etc. A responsive supply chain helps provide quick customer service that ensures continued satisfaction and repeat customers.

While many of these things overlap with efficient supply chains, they point to a responsive supply chain when they are used create processes that are quickly reactive to consumer desires.

Efficient vs. responsive supply chains

Since there is some overlap, let’s delve into the differences between efficient vs responsive supply chains.

Efficient supply chains focus on lean workflows and processes that result in greater productivity. A focus on supply chain efficiency generally results in a faster workflow and less waste. Since supply chains are made up of many constantly changing parts, creating an efficient supply chain requires looking at each of these parts and creating visibility and streamlining processes for each of them. If one part of the supply chain encounters an issue, it can cause issues down the entire line. Companies who focus on creating uber efficient supply chains tend to have good results in a marketplace that increasingly values speed of delivery and low prices.

However, while an efficient supply chain is incredibly beneficial, efficiency is not the only thing that companies must consider. Creating a supply chain that is quickly responsive is also important to stay competitive. A responsive supply chain can adapt quickly to changing consumer demands, shifting economic climates, natural disasters and more. Recently, supply chain responsiveness was tested by the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While efficiency is important to lower waste and control costs, responsiveness is equally important. No matter how efficient a supply chain is, it won’t help a company if it cannot quickly respond to what consumers want at any given moment. The true test of a good supply chain management team is being able to find a happy balance between both efficiency and responsiveness. This results in lower costs, speedy fulfillment and happy customers.

How can you build a more responsive supply chain?

We’ve established that a more responsive supply chain can increase customer retention rates and ultimately increase profits and growth. So, how can your company start building a responsive supply chain? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Optimize communication

A large part of creating a responsive supply chain is simply focusing on speedy and clear communication between your company, your suppliers, third party logistics providers etc. The more quickly issues can be communicated across a supply chain the more quickly they can be solved, hopefully before they impact your customers. Software can help with this, but it is also important to make sure your employees are trained in effective communication techniques and are maintaining constant contact with critical partners across your supply chain.

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Create fair contracts with suppliers

To make sure your suppliers meet expectations for deliveries it is important to create detailed and fair supplier contracts. Management teams should consider a supplier’s profit margin, business values, etc. when drafting contracts to make sure terms are fair for both parties. There are two types of contracts generally used in these scenarios, flexible contracts and partial contracts.

Flexible contracts detail what is expected from the supplier by the business. These contracts are outcome-based, meaning that production will be based on present demand. Flexible contracts help companies meet customer demand quickly and efficiently.

Partial contracts are used to help distributors maximize capacity and efficiency across transportation and shipping routes, which can save everyone time and money.

Both types of contracts can be useful depending on what you need most in your supply chain at that moment.

Create forecasts for different scenarios

Demand projection can never be 100% accurate, so it is important to create several different forecasts for different possible outcomes. Poor demand projection can least to excess dead stock or worse, not having enough stock to meet consumer demand. Since situations can change quickly, creating several demand forecasts is essential to creating a responsive supply chain. When these forecasts are created early on, it gives a company’s inventory management team plans for many different outcomes. This allows companies to quickly respond to fluctuations in market demands.

Utilize modern software

New supply chain software developments make supply chain visibility more attainable than ever. For example, modern inventory management software allows you to see your inventory levels in real-time from any location. This allows you to quickly spot and deal with inventory shortages that could cause delayed fulfillment times, for example.

Another example is software that allows you to track shipments in real-time, so your customers can see where their items are at any given moment. These tools increase consumer confidence in your brand and enable management to make swift decisions to deal with hiccups before they turn into major issues. If you aren’t utilizing supply chain management software, now is a good time to start.

How enVista Can Help

Building a highly responsive supply chain is essential for any company wanting to remain competitive in today’s marketplace. However, creating a supply chain that is responsive while also maintaining supply chain efficiency can be a challenge; this is where enVista can help. Our supply chain consulting team has years of experience creating and implementing supply chain roadmaps for major market players. We save you the time and frustration of starting from scratch and help you get a clear vision of what is needed to optimize your supply chain. Let’s have a conversation about your company’s goals today.

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