Seven Keys to Serving the Post-Pandemic End Customer


Many enterprises have accomplished more in the past year than they had planned for the next five — emerging from the COVID-19 crisis increasingly resilient, digital and focused on the “new customer.” Post pandemic, and on the tail of e-commerce’s biggest ever growth spurt, the new customer demands near-instant delivery, bespoke products and services, dynamic pricing, and a delightful user experience.

In order to compete, businesses must adopt a digital infrastructure that navigates physical limitations. Here are a few keys to success. 

Get Intimate 

The traditional customer our supply chains were designed to serve has changed. Getting close to the end customer is no longer an option, it is “entry-stakes” to winning. Success depends on knowing your customer, what they want, and recognizing when there is a change in behavior. A more intimate relationship is required. 

Many companies recognize that their traditional business model is inefficient and shields them from their customers and therefore they are late to recognize market shifts. Enterprises that once considered themselves a manufacturer or distributor have found that they need to be more knowledgeable about the buying behaviors of their end customer to better understand their market.

Explore Your Data

In the post-pandemic economy, it’s essential that companies optimize operations beyond their four walls and across the value chain. This requires transparency and real-time accessible data to adjust to changes in demand and supply to optimize performance. 

The digitally integrated value chain runs on data and companies are creating new data models and exploring innovative techniques for gaining access to the data they need. As a result, new tools have emerged to support the thirst for digital instrumentation including data trading, internet-of-things (IoT) sensors, machine learning integration, external market performance data and internal demand and supply chain metrics to recognize and adjust as the market changes. 

Determine what data is essential to drive digitalization, update your data model to reflect those requirements, and identify the data sources. Some essential data will be harder to get and will need to be sourced from partners, suppliers, or even competitors. Think about ways to access hard-to-get data that may include trading for what you need. The Digital Supply Chain Institute (DSCI) has developed a data trading framework that may provide a quick start.

Data is exchanged amongst parties in a network and confidential business data and personal information may be passed between the parties. Data stewardship standards are lagging far behind the collection of data and need to be developed. Data needs to be properly cataloged and responsibly managed, access mapped, monitored and cybersecurity protected. Recognizing the struggle that most corporations have in creating data stewardship standards, DSCI’s parent organization, the Center for Global Enterprise (CGE), has formed a Data and Trust Alliance to define responsible management data practices to create value and earn trust.

Focus on Supply Chain Agility

Long, offshore supply chains with weeks of transport were once cost-effective, but they were never flexible nor efficient. As the new customer demands shorter lead times, distant supply chains are a liability and can no longer be the primary supply channel. Supply chains must be much closer to the customer with built-in demand sensing. 

Near-shore or on-shore manufacturing is required, and distribution centers have to be engineered and located to serve all channels and provide timely delivery to each. This requires clear channel definition and KPI’s that reflect the performance in each of the channels served. Marketing may tout omnichannel, but at the operational level multi-channel performance is still key to achieving success and bottom-line results.

Be Smart About Workflow

Smart workflow improves efficiency and performance enabling the agile supply chain to outperform the long-lead time supply chain. Making real-time adjustments based on demand and supply signals minimize inefficiencies. Digitalization of workflow using artificial intelligence and cross-enterprise workflow tools such as blockchain, IoT and digital twins allows for integration, transparency and real-time data exchange throughout the supply chain. 

Adapt Your Leadership Approach

Today’s operating environment is far more about speed and collaboration than hierarchical management. Foundational management skills have changed as business digitized and traditional approaches are no longer effective. Collaboration and the ability to work effectively, at speed, across organizational boundaries is required and core processes such as change and talent management must keep pace. 

In many ways, online games like Fortnite look a lot like today’s business environment where teams are data-driven, have fluid leadership depending on the situation, and come together from across different geographies and experiences. Horizontal, not hierarchical, management that looks across the business is required and that requires a new leadership approach. 

Reassess Your Business Model

Is your business model fit to serve the post-pandemic customer? Ask yourself:

  • What is required to digitally integrate our value chain? 
  • Do we have access to the data required to quickly identify changing consumer trends? 
  • Are our KPIs designed to optimize end-to-end supply chain performance, or do they still reflect silo performance? 
  • Have our corporate governance policies kept abreast of the changes brought on by digitalization, especially in data governance? 
  • Can we identify business disruptors on the horizon?

Serving the new customer and successfully competing in the post-pandemic global economy requires a digital transformation of the supply chain. It’s all about understanding the customer, adapting quickly to market shifts, and operating efficiently by delivering the right product at the right time and in the right quantity to satisfy the new customer. You won’t get there without a digital value chain that embraces the traits above. 

Shawn Muma is director of supply chain innovation and emerging technologies for DSCI, a research organization focused on the evolution of enterprise supply chains in the digital economy.


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