Building customer centricity is a multifaceted effort that requires chemical companies to work across multiple customer touchpoints. As they do so, however, they need to pay especially close attention to the supply chain—the backbone of customer centricity that enables them to deliver the products and services customers want, when and where they want them. And according to Accenture’s Global Buyer Values Study for Chemicals, the industry has a real opportunity—and a need—to improve on this front.
In terms of the supply chain (Figure 1), the study revealed that sellers significantly underestimate the importance that consistent, on-time delivery has for buyers—both converters (who transform chemical products for manufacturing segments and end-use markets) and manufacturers (who produce finished products for industrial sectors and consumers). Indeed, this is by far the largest gap in seller-buyer perceptions related to supply chain management.
On the other hand, buyers are not as interested as sellers think in having the ability to track deliveries. Together, these findings suggest that buyers want sellers to get the basics of reliable delivery right in the first place, rather than mitigate problems after the fact.
Figure 1: Perception gaps between sellers and buyers for supply chain attributes
At the same time, sellers have an opportunity to bring more flexibility and sophistication to their supply chains. For example, converters have a relatively high level of interest in sellers increasing the use of automation in the supply chain. In addition, many buyers value product and packaging customization. This is especially true of manufacturers in the transportation, industrial machinery, and electrical and battery industries, which typically have very complex production systems. Customization can help them seamlessly integrate delivered products into those systems to minimize handling time and effort.
Overall, buyers’ relatively high levels of interest in reliable delivery and product and packaging customization suggests that those needs are not yet met, but getting them right could have significant competitive benefits—supporting the argument that supply chain management should be a top priority for senior leadership.
In 2017, the World Economic Forum and Accenture reported that digital supply chain initiatives could bring up to US$70B of value to the chemical industry—and likely more by now given the pace of innovation and rapid evolution of new technologies.
Moving from insight to action
Altogether, the insights from this research point to a number of steps that chemical companies should consider in order to build more customer-centric supply chains.
Take a broad view of reliability. Reliability is not a matter of fast delivery—it means delivering OTIF (on time in full), having accurate available-to-promise capabilities, and managing and sourcing transportation more effectively. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for companies to build resilience into their supply chains so they can recover quickly from sudden and significant disruptions. To increase reliability and consistency in the supply chain, chemical companies can use tools such as predictive and automated supply chain planning and freight scheduling. They can also consider establishing supply chain control towers—platforms that integrate data from across the supply chain to enable centralized monitoring and coordination of orders, products and shipping.
Build logistics partnerships. The chemical industry has often struggled to meet customer requirements related to delivery. That means that companies are likely to benefit from working with third- and fourth-party logistics (3PL/4PL) providers for enhanced transportation management. With this type of partnership in place, chemical companies can gain access to the expertise and capabilities needed to manage today’s complicated logistics, and in turn improve their ability to meet customer expectations.
Apply digital technology to improve operations. Automation and robotics can be used in packaging and dispatch processes to help increase flexibility and efficiently provide product and packaging customization. More broadly, these and other digital technologies—including artificial intelligence and advanced analytics—can help improve supply chain reliability, responsiveness and transparency. Ultimately this can help chemical companies move closer to creating supply chains that are “self-driving and self-correcting.”
The supply chain is the backbone of customer centricity, enabling companies to deliver products and services to customers, when and where they want them.
As they improve their supply chains, chemical companies need to ensure that they keep their focus squarely on the customer and the factors that customers truly value, starting with the fundamentals of reliable, consistent delivery. The customer-centric supply chain is increasingly vital to meeting customer needs—and ultimately, to driving differentiation, growth and profitability.
The Accenture 2020 Global Buyer Values Study for Chemicals assessed and compared the perspectives of chemical companies (sellers), their customers (buyers, including converters and manufacturers), retailers and end consumers. The study identified areas where seller and buyer perspectives are aligned and where they differ, and where sellers have an opportunity to do a better job of meeting buyers’ needs.
This report covers only a portion of the study’s extensive findings, which can be used to provide an in-depth understanding of a range of factors affecting customer centricity—for specific companies, as well as the industry as a whole. The next report in this series looks at the role of digital technology in helping chemical companies enhance customer centricity.
Thank you to Accenture’s David Apel, Bruno Djapanovic, Michelle Ganchinho and Karin Walczyk for their help in executing the study and writing this report.