We fulfil demand in different ways.
For instance, we make products available such as at store shelves. Another example is we customise and deliver based on what our customers order.
We encounter challenges in fulfilling demand, however. And we sometimes don’t know we do.
- The Case of the Missing Dumpling
I went to a newly opened convenience store one Sunday morning. I wanted to buy a siopao (an oversized steamed dumpling). Despite the advertisements posted, the store attendants said there was no siopao available. When I looked for a hotdog sandwich instead, the attendant also said there was none. I ended up just buying a bottle of water.
The convenience store attendants said that the central warehouse that supplies all the store branches had not yet delivered the items they requested and thus, they were unable to restock the shelves. The attendants, however, were not apologetic and they just shrugged their shoulders when I asked when they would receive their items. The attendants didn’t know, and they didn’t care. I left the store with a bad impression and I had been reluctant to go back to the store ever since. Meanwhile, the president of the convenience store company brags on social media that their business has been growing rapidly.
The convenience store failed to fulfil my demand. That was obvious. It didn’t make available the items as advertised.
The question is: who’s at fault? Is it the store, the warehouse that supplies the store, or the vendor that delivers to the warehouse?
The answer to the question is: all of them. The store, the warehouse, and the vendor are links in the supply chain and they each are responsible in fulfilling the demand of the consumers at the end of the chain.
But as much as we may blame all three for any fulfilment failure, solving the issue starts with all three working together to see what went wrong.
2. The Case of the Cancelled Flight:
My sister-in-law booked a flight from Manila to Taipei on New Year’s Day. She checked in at the airline counter at 10am for a 12nn departure. But an equipment failure at the airport’s traffic control centre at 9:45am forced her and all other flights to be delayed indefinitely. The airline insisted she and the other passengers wait. She decided to cancel and rebook. The airline’s ground staff helped her reclaim her luggage and exit the airport. I picked her up from the airport arrival area and she was able to depart the next day to Taipei.
My sister-in-law was very impressed with the assistance of the airline staff. Aside from the help they gave to speedily leave the airport, the ticketing call agents were fast in finding another flight for her to rebook and leave Manila for Taipei the next day.
It wasn’t the airline’s fault that the air traffic control system failed that New Year’s Day but the staff did all they could to assist the passengers. The airline, however, didn’t notify passengers of the equipment failure and possible flight delay as the latter were checking in. And the airline didn’t tell passengers until hours later (and hours after my sister-in-law left the airport) that their flight was cancelled.
Airlines have a basic demand fulfilment mission: fly passengers to their destinations. Airlines, however, are at the mercy of disruptions beyond their control. Bad weather and air traffic control glitches can ruin any flight’s schedule and airlines would be unable do anything about them.
But airlines can mitigate the impact via the services and support they can provide and have control over. As much as we passengers just want to go wherever we are going at the fastest means possible, we also want our travel to be convenient. We want to book & get our tickets easily, we want to ride in planes with comfortable seats, and we want to be informed about any changes.
Demand fulfilment in air travel isn’t just about conveyance, it’s about the process of conveyance meeting the terms & conditions of what the airline advertised and in the ticket we bought. Airline tickets dictate limitations in case of disruption, but they also advertise comfort and service. We as passengers therefore expect that comfort and service to include some support & up-to-date information when our flights get cancelled.
3. The Case of the Suit That Wasn’t Done and Wasn’t Needed
I went to a clothing alteration shop to have my suit re-fitted. The tailor said he can have my suit altered and ready in ten (10) days, which would be on a Friday. I said that was all right as I told the tailor that I would need the suit two (2) days from then, a Sunday, to wear in a wedding I will attend. I advanced my payment and promised to be back in ten (10) days. I caught the CoVid virus, however, and because I was ill, I was unable to get my suit that Friday, ten (10) days later, and I did not attend the wedding the following Sunday. When I went to pick up my suit on Monday, the tailor said the suit was not ready. He never worked on it at all.
I didn’t need my suit anymore, so I no longer needed my suit to be altered. The tailor didn’t have enough cash to refund my advanced payment, so we ended up agreeing to have the suit altered anyway. In a week, I had my suit altered and returned.
The tailor failed to serve my order but did I deserve a refund?
As a customer, I believe I did deserve a refund even if I no longer had demand for an alteration of my suit. I had a pending order and the tailor agreed to the terms & conditions and schedule for service of the order. He didn’t fulfil the order such that I didn’t get my money’s worth from the advance payment. It doesn’t matter that I no longer needed my suit; the tailor didn’t meet his end of the bargain.
But as much as there was failure on his part, the tailor made the effort to negotiate and offer to do my suit within a week. He also offered to alter any other attire I may bring to his shop equivalent to the value of my advanced payment. It didn’t make up for his failure to serve my order but I did appreciate his offer. We ended up settling to just have my suit altered anyway.
Demand fulfilment success, from our perspective as customers, depends on three (3) factors:
- on-time & complete delivery
- product quality
In all three (3) aforementioned cases, the suppliers failed to deliver.
The convenience store in Case #1 failed to deliver and didn’t really do much more for me, the customer.
In Case #2, the airline’s ground staff assisted my sister-in-law when her flight was cancelled but the airline could have done better in the way of notifications and information. The airline didn’t really provide convenience for their customers, which they constantly advertised.
In Case #3, the tailor offered to alter my suit within a week or alter any of my other attire to make up for the value of my advanced payment. He could have simply returned my suit and told me to come back to get a refund. Instead, we negotiated for a compromise in which both I and the tailor came out satisfied.
Demand fulfilment, indeed, can be complicated what with we as customers look for and the disruptions & limitations we and our suppliers experience.
We may not be perfect when we as suppliers fulfil our customers’ demands. We may not deliver completely and on-time all the time and we may have issues with disruptions that affect the quality of our products & services, but we can make it up or at least mitigate our imperfections via the services we provide and which we agreed with our customers.
It’s not so much as going out of our way to help our customers when there are failures in fulfilment. Sometimes, just doing what we are supposed be doing as we agreed and advertise can be enough.