By Joe Munns, Founder and CEO at BakedIn

COVID-19 has, for businesses of all sizes, disrupted every step of the way for supply chains, whether you’re operating at a global level or locally. When demand for our baking kit subscriptions sky-rocketed at the end of the March, we knew we had to adapt our supply chain quickly. And act fast to minimise interruption. This meant building in even more flexibility, staying close to suppliers and ensuring we showed empathy at every point – from our people through to our partners.

Put employees first

Employees are at the core of our business. Ensuring their wellbeing and success is what makes us us. We’ve had to adapt to new home-working environments, which for an F&B business, is hard, while shifting all efforts towards customer-focused roles. Allowing staff to work around childcare commitments and regular team check-ins has been key. We’ve also taken on additional support in our warehouse to ensure our core team isn’t overstretched.

Think about how you can reassure your team in these times. We introduced a four-day week a few years ago, and keeping this in place for our team has been essential.

Over-communicate with customers

Fulfilment right across the supply chain is taking a little longer than usual. Our suppliers are pulling out all the stops to ensure we receive component ingredients but sometimes it’s beyond their control. We’re building in flexibility and understanding. Similarly, this impacts how we deliver to both our direct and retail customers. So we over-communicate. We keep dialogue constant at every point of purchase, communicating on stock availability and delivery to help manage expectations.

Ultimately, if you can’t confidently offer a delivery date, you’re sold out. Focus on the customer relationship - don’t sell what you can’t deliver. Being transparent will nurture the relationship beyond COVID-19.

Adapt key performance indicators within your supply chain

Creating empathy within the supply chain isn’t about slipping into bad habits. You still need to ensure discipline. While customers are in lockdown, waiting for a delivery is less of an issue. But it won’t always be the case. Repeatedly slipping up on customer experience will ultimately erode customer confidence.

Adapt new supply chain key performance indicators that reflect the restrictions you and your partners are working towards. Share these back – be they speed of delivery or any risk issues within the chain and ensure you’re adhering to these.

Think strategically about partnership options - in advance

Longer-term thinking is essential in these times. You need to know what’s happening in your current supply chain as well as beyond it. Having visibility of other suppliers and potentially being able to activate these is a real driver for flexibility and helps you react faster. Looking ahead, we’re holding more stock where possible as well as extending warehouse space.

Build in reciprocity

We’re really seeing partners and suppliers go the extra mile. With inventory issues, they’ll ensure that customer service is second-to-none or go all out on delivery if sourcing is a challenge. There’s ways to build this goodwill into your customer offer too. Look at ways to be creative in terms of building good-will in these stressful times – adding value through social media, meaningful community connection and engaging incentives that bring customers together.

How brands behave in times of crisis matters. You want your brand to be remembered for behaving with customer-led compassion and real transparency. Embracing empathy throughout your supply chain is an authentic place to start.