Rethinking CRM: Social Media at a 3PL

Long-time readers of Logistics Viewpoints know that I’ve been promoting the potential value of social media technologies like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn in supply chain management (see “Supply Chain Twitter” and “Facebook in Supply Chain Management”). This is why C.H. Robinson’s announcement in February about TMC Connect caught my attention. Simply put, TMC Connect is a private social media site for CHR customers that includes a blog, discussion forums, content library, and the ability for customers to connect and communicate with each other (similar to how you “friend” someone in Facebook or link to them via LinkedIn).

I was given a demo of TMC Connect a few weeks ago, and although the site has only been live since December and customers are still learning how to use it, I was very impressed with what I saw. While other 3PLs and software vendors have launched blogs in the past year or so, mainly for marketing and brand visibility purposes, this was the first time I have seen a logistics company combine blogging functionality with Facebook/LinkedIn-like capabilities to facilitate collaboration and networking between customers.

Social media is the next evolution of customer relationship management in the logistics industry.

Customers complain that their 3PLs aren’t proactive enough in identifying continuous improvement ideas and opportunities. Operational excellence is a given these days, it’s the cost of entry, what gets a 3PL invited to the dance. What customers also want from their 3PLs, what they expect, are insights—about industry trends, best practices, business threats and opportunities, and ideas/solutions for how to respond to these trends. What C.H. Robinson is doing with TMC Connect is a step in this direction.

Social Media enables the “We are Smarter Than Me” concept.

Screenshots of CH Robinson's TMC Connect (Source: CH Robinson; click to enlarge)

In the press release, Wayne Tessin, manager, North America Transportation of Ocean Spray Cranberries, sums it up nicely: “TMC Connect is a terrific idea that will enable Ocean Spray and other TMC clients to exchange ideas, share best practices and expand network contacts with transportation and supply chain professionals working in diverse industries. Tapping into the speed and global reach of the Internet through TMC Connect has great potential. I’m looking forward to having this tool at my fingertips, not just to help solve daily challenges, but also to stay informed about industry trends, new strategies and other topics of interest. I applaud TMC for their initiative in developing TMC Connect and look forward to continued success.”

When it comes to leveraging social media in supply chain and logistics, we’re still in the early adopter and education phase. I suspect that it will take many weeks, if not months, for C.H. Robinson’s customers to feel comfortable using all of the features and capabilities TMC Connect offers. Discussion Forums, for example, usually are slow to take off, and they often require a few outspoken individuals to get the conversation started and going. CHR understands that it will take time for customers to fully embrace the platform, which is why the company is very “hands on” at the moment bringing customers onboard. The long-term goal is for customers to ultimately drive the content and direction of TMC Connect within minimal oversight from CHR.

Are you still a skeptic about the role of social media in supply chain management? Some of your competitors are hoping so.