Blog Posts 5 Fulfillment Strategies to Delight Your Customers
Customer experience is king. In fact, it is expected to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020, according to a study by Walker.
So how do you deliver a buying experience that is sure to delight your customers? Order fulfillment plays a critical role.
How Your Fulfillment Center Can Deliver the Best Customer Experience
1. Provide Real-Time Product and Availability Information.
Consumers not only want to be able to check in-store availability of an item, they also want to have visibility into actual inventory levels (e.g., 5 left in stock). In fact, 79 percent consider this capability important enough to influence where they shop, IBM’s “Watson Customer Engagement” study reveals. Order tracking is also a priority.
To put the information your customers are looking for at their fingertips, consider investing in a robust order management system (OMS). This will give you the ability to see inventory across your entire enterprise – warehouses, brick-and-mortar stores, vendors (for drop shipments), in transit and available to promise. As a result, you can share detailed information with your customers, including online and in-store product availability, backorder status, and shipment tracking. They also will appreciate your ability to provide seamless service across channels.
2. Provide Responsive Service
When a customer places an order, it’s time to kick into high gear. To fill orders faster, consider expanding your use of automation – from wearable RF technology and robots to pick-to-light and automated label application/manifesting. Automated fulfillment and material handling solutions can help optimize order turnaround and delivery times.
Take time to analyze your fulfillment processes to ensure that orders can move as quickly as possible once they’re received into your OMS. Finetune receiving and evaluate picking and packing processes to ensure optimal efficiencies. Also, look for opportunities to delay product configuration or customization until the last possible moment, so you’re better able to accommodate changing customer demands.
Of course, you’ll want to add lines and staffing to accommodate order volume.
3. Offer Range of Delivery Options.
Free next-day delivery announcements from Amazon and Walmart are generating considerable buzz and putting renewed pressure on retailers to step up their game. While this level of service may be unrealistic for the majority retailers today, it is still possible to offer your customers a variety of attractive options for reliable, fast and free or low-cost shipping.
If you’re struggling to provide fast, efficient deliveries, carefully consider your distribution network. With two or more strategically located distribution centers, it is possible to reach 90 percent of U.S. consumers via ground rather than expedited service.
Once you have the right network in place, your OMS can identify the best source to pull from for the fastest, most cost-effective service. An intelligent system can weigh a variety of variables for each order: Which fulfillment source is closest to the customer? Are all the items ordered in stock there? Should individual line items be shipped from different sources for optimal service?
Of course, to provide competitive delivery options, it is also important to pay close attention to shipping costs. Familiarize yourself with pricing considerations (i.e., origin point, distribution/volume, transit speed, minimum rate, surcharges, dimensional weight, etc.) and shop for the best rates.
4. Focus on Order Accuracy
No one likes to receive an order late, damaged or inaccurate. In fact, 32 percent of consumers say they would walk away from a brand they “love” after just one bad experience, PwC’s research shows. And in today’s social-media focused society, those experiences quickly become amplified.
Quality is key. Pay careful attention to your operations and utilize proven processes to ensure accuracy and uphold service excellence. Leveraging methodologies like Lean Six Sigma can help keep quality high, control costs and improve efficiencies at every stage of the fulfillment process. And don’t rest on your laurels. Make continuous improvement an integral part of your operations.
Automation also helps to improve order accuracy and reduce the need for returns due to fulfillment error.
5. Process Returns Efficiently
Fast, hassle-free returns are the gold standard. Forty-nine percent of U.S. shoppers said they would be very likely to shop more on sites that made the returns process easier, according to Metapack’s 2018 State of Ecommerce Delivery survey. Ease of returns is also a major contributing factor to consumer lifetime value.
Your distribution network comes into play again here. If your DCs are located in close proximity to your customers, you will be able to process their returns faster.
Also, confirm that your OMS is able to provide a unified solution for managing returns and exchanges.
Returns often spike, particularly at the holidays, so it’s helpful to have flexible space and staffing to accommodate fluctuations. The goal is to streamline the returns process, so you can send the correct product or issue a refund promptly.
Seek Out Expert Support
If implementing these strategies seems daunting, you don’t have to go it alone. Seek out an experienced 3PL with an established network of facilities, sophisticated technology, scalable space and staffing and successful quality management program in place. Their resources will give you a head start in delivering an experience that keeps your customers coming back for more.