Managing supply lines and customer expectations during crisis

By Sweta Patra & Pragya Patra *

Supply chain can be quite a tricky issue for small firms who have not much control either on their products or the logistics of things.  The Corona crisis has taught us and many like us – small entities who are engaged in business mainly on social media platforms and on ecommerce market places – a lot many things as to how to manoeuvre operations and managing customer expectations.

First important lesson has been is to keep your supply lines intact during any crisis. You just need to keep a constant eye on the inventory, keep in touch with your buyers and also be in touch with your back up artisans, weavers, and suppliers and continuously manage product demand.

Another lesson is to keep communication open and transparent. People like us who are working on selling through social media and some selected marketplaces need to be thinking all the time. We have to be in touch with our customers, vendors, logistics partners on a continuous basis. Especially customers, as several of them are excited about their selected products and would want to have at the expected time. So a clear communication will keep them updated with the latest on their products as things are not in control many times. And you will find that most of your customers indeed are very understanding.

For example during these times even though the product got dispatched many times it got stuck at some logistics partner warehouse, and there could not be a movement for quite some time for genuine reasons. So a clean line of communication helps.  This indeed helped us a lot, both in domestic as well as international orders.

The key always is, to remember is, that the whole business model is centred around your customer. In our case not only is communication important but also maintaining a stringent quality check is of big importance.  Requirements of all customers need to be taken care of – the fabric, the colour (for some colours look different in pictures – so here you need to always strive meet to meet the customers’  expectations as you have promised.

It is indeed a whole lot of work and not much of money initially but the satisfaction is that your outfit is growing, that you are building a brand, and that you are contributing to the growth of the people who are involved in the whole ecosystem, – the artisan, the weavers, the logistics guys, the small town courier guy and several others attached to such an ecosystem – this all contributes to our rural economy in some way as well as to the urban one too. That’s a great feeling indeed.

And the cherry on the cake is when the customer says that s/he indeed loved the product and also takes the trouble to also drop in a few words and sometimes even shares pictures with the purchased products to share on our social media pages, that all takes all the exhaustion away and gears us up to work with more vigour. It gives us a renewed confidence that we are moving on the right path of creating value.

So for businesses it is best to be prepared in a way that business operations and continuity is not compromised in any manner.  Your supply chain can get impacted due to any reasons – it could be a pandemic like the Covid 19, it could be natural disasters, transportation failures and delays, there could be product issues, price fluctuations or even a cyber attacks. So the mantra is to be just prepared. You may be a small outfit but your preparation has to be watertight. You do not have enough deep pockets to take much hit, so your preparedness will decide your survival.

During such times the customers will continue to ask for what they need.  And you have to serve them as they are the core of your business.

(Authors are co-founders, Ethnics Land, a Handmade ethnic women’s clothing start-up)

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