Conversation is the key to the last mile problem

Delivery logistics are undergoing dramatic change. Technological development has created huge new opportunities – drones, automation, chatbots, mobile ecommerce etc. – but logistics operators still go on with the same old logic leaving consumers frustrated.


I think this boils down to the fact that the famous last mile problem is somewhat misunderstood. The solution is not more technology, the solution is more conversation.


Building drone networks, automated delivery bots or autonomous small vehicles will not help the biggest obstacle: what to do if the customer is not home. These days it is common for 20 to 30 per cent of deliveries to fail on the first try, creating a time-consuming loop of rescheduling.


When done right, the scheduling should occur as early in the process and be as accurate as possible. Instead of vague three-hour slots, with modern messaging platforms and smart technology the window should be narrowed to 30 minutes. This conversation should start during check-out, with “looks like we could deliver this to you tomorrow at 6pm, is this fine?" or dialogue like that. At the same time consumers are demanding more flexible delivery options. 


Eventually the conversation will be automated with omni-channel bots and intelligent service design.


The last mile is a critical issue to overcome for many big ecommerce retailers, and that's exacerbated by trends, such as selling fresh groceries online or developing a network of automated pick-up points.


Service architecture messaging and customer communications are moving closer and closer to the actual ecommerce and retail process. The more online stores begin to see the business benefits of seamless customer journey, the more delivery logistics will be integrated into the shopping and check-out process.


This will be a huge change for delivery companies, who have more or less become accustomed to operating as “just the messenger”, picking something up from A and delivering it to B within the time defined in the service level agreement.


It will be interesting to see how they can shift their mindset from moving packages to delivering customer value.


April 20, 2017