Fast and efficient order fulfillment plays a pivotal role in the success of any business, but it can be argued that the larger a company gets, the more difference it makes. In our age of ubiquitous social media, it is extremely easy for the customers to get in touch and inform each other about not just who offers the best products but is fast to deliver and provides the best customer service. Conversely, they immediately latch onto any weakness in your order fulfillment system, and the resulting negative word of mouth will nullify all your costly marketing and advertising.
And while information about slow order fulfillment and poor overall experience in a small store probably won’t make the news, in the case of a large company it will spread like wildfire and seriously undermine its reputation.
So, any business looking to keep its clients and attract new ones should be ready to invest in improving its order fulfillment procedures. Let’s discuss a few ways of doing it.
1. Use a consolidated order fulfillment management system
If you want to reach out to as many potential customers as possible, you should offer many places where they can communicate with you and place an order: via your website, an online marketplace, by phone, or even personally at one of your locations. To ensure all of these orders are processed without a hitch, all of them should be processed via a single order management system. In addition to that, everybody in your company who is relevant to the order fulfillment should be able to access this system from any place, at any time, using any device.
Using multiple systems to work with each individual channel is cumbersome and creates an infinite potential for errors, delays, and contradictions. When an order is placed, all information about it has to be introduced into a single database for future use.
2. Automate data entry
Manual data entry doesn’t just take an obscene amount of time — it also breeds mistakes that result in unnecessary expenses and further work and effort to set things right. Orders get shipped to wrong destinations, clients don’t get the items they’ve ordered or are charged wrong sums, and the situation is going to worsen with the growth of your operation progressively.
Anything that can automate and streamline the process of data capture and entry is welcome. For example, a tablet with barcode scanner will make life much easier for warehouse fulfillment associates – especially if it doesn’t require complicated integration with systems and apps used by the company.
In the long run, you should seek to completely remove all the manual steps from the entire order process — that is, automate everything that doesn’t require complex decision making. It will not just speed up the process and improve customer experience but free up valuable resources and decrease costs as well.
3. Establish direct and smooth communication
Every additional link in the communication chain necessary for the order to be processed and delivered means more time spent on unnecessary reiteration. Make sure your order management system can transmit orders from the point of sale to warehouse in the most direct way possible. Ideally, the moment the order is placed it should be immediately communicated to fulfillment associates in a relevant warehouse so that they can start working on it without skipping a beat.
4. Analyze demand trends
Analyzing seasonal ups and downs in demand for particular items over time provides a host of information that can be used to prepare to demand peaks in future years. Knowing when and by how much order quantities are going to rise at particular moments, your company can stock its warehouses up in advance without finding out at the last moment that there are more orders than can be realistically fulfilled.
Another significant trend is that customers often buy multiple different items together, and some of them accompany each other more often. For example, when customers purchase a laptop, they usually buy a bag to carry it and a spare battery. Again, you should analyze purchasing patterns and take notice of such combinations to both stock up on relevant items and keep them close in warehouses.
5. Manage inventory in real time
Nothing hurts a business more than not being able to fulfill a customer’s order after it has already been accepted — it is worse than not having the necessary item in the first place. No amount of apologies and refunds is going to restore reputational losses you incur — and if you regularly have to tell your clients that the item they’ve ordered is no longer in stock, you risk losing them altogether. The only way to deal with this problem once and for all is to keep your order management system in sync with your inventory. By making sure that your OMS always has access to real-time information about the state of your inventory guarantees that you won’t take up responsibilities you cannot fulfill.
6. Measure the results continuously
Keep track of all your key performance indicators and anything that adversely affects them. Late order delivery, poor team productivity, inability to handle unexpected numbers of orders, recurring problems — you should not just deal with them as they arise, you should gather information about them and analyze it. It is the only way to find out what can be done in the long term to improve the situation. Optimization only happens by way of measuring the results, introducing changes and analyzing what effect you’ve managed to achieve in this fashion.
Order processing and fulfillment are the bottlenecks that determine how well the entire business works. You may spend tens of thousands of dollars on advertising, marketing, and promoting your brand, but if you are unable to meet your customers’ expectations and deliver what they’ve ordered on time, all these expenses will be of little help. Concentrate on optimizing these procedures and you will earn more goodwill and gratitude than through any number of loyalty programs and hefty discounts.
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