Imagine this… You walk into a Target like you’ve done countless times before. You’ve put it off for far too long, and you’re looking for a new package of socks. With a bit of luck, you managed to find your favorites still there and you take them to the register to checkout. When you get there, the cashier takes them away from you and says to check back later to see when you can have them. That’s odd… you just wanted your new pair of socks. Luckily, when you come back the next day, they tell you that you’ll receive your new socks tomorrow. Unfortunately, when they arrive, they’re not the socks you handed to the cashier – they’re neon green, and you simply wanted some white running socks. Now you need to start all over again.
This scenario is what you and your customers deal with, every single day. In many cases, it’s been accepted as the “norm” or just something you have to deal with. The thing is though, that no one has to deal with this. You have options, as does your customers, and your competitors. If you don’t make this a more pleasant experience, your customers will demand it from you or your competition. Their decision is literally up to you, and you can help make it for them. Here are some of the key issues that we just described.
- The customer doesn’t know when the product(s) will be shipped. They’re frustrated.
- The customer doesn’t know when the product(s) will be delivered. They’re even more frustrated and now impatient too.
- Customers begin calling your company asking preventable questions. This frustrates them more, wastes their time, and costs you money.
- Someone in your company has to manually make those updates. This costs a lot of time (and money).
- The entire manual process leaves plenty of room for human error. Bad things can and will happen.
Thankfully, you can fix these issues today.
A Word on ERP’s
First and foremost, if you’re processing orders regularly, you need to invest in an ERP for your organization. There’s no excuses here, because it will help your business run more smoothly, and there’s plenty of low-cost and even free options out there to get you started, such as ERP Next and MixERP. In fact, Odoo offers CRM capabilities too. ERP stands for “enterprise resource planning,” which is a fancy way of saying “a system that helps you track and process things.” You can think of any online store that you love to use as a benchmark for yours, and it’s a 99.9% chance that there’s an ERP running things behind the scenes. If you sell physical products or are planning on going omni-channel, it’s even more of a must.
Tell Your Customers When Their Order Will Ship
Regardless to whether or not you’re using an ERP, your customers expect certain things. Just like when you go to the local coffee house, your cashier tells you where and when your drink will be ready. Your store should be the same way. Even before the shopping cart or checkout, it’s absolutely a best practice to let your customers know when their order will be shipped to them. Some stores make it obvious using a banner on their site, saying something like, “Everything Ships Within 24 Hours.” Whatever you say, don’t just say it – stick to it and stand by it, and you’ll win the loyalty of that customer.
Hopefully, your system and process allows for it, but be sure to update the order history to let your customer know when the order is getting fulfilled. In many cases, this might be a built in notification that you don’t have to worry about. If it isn’t you should do this yourself.
If you are using an ERP, you could potentially use the ERP to give fulfillment estimates that are specific to a product or order. More on that below though…
Tell Your Customers When Their Order Will Be Delivered
Giving the status of when an order shipment might be received is simply good manners, but it’s also incredible customer service. The more your customer hears from you about their order, the better it will be for everyone involved. It’s our human nature to fill voids of communication with the worst case scenarios. No matter what, tell your customer when the product has been shipped, and what day and time it can be expected to arrive. You should be able to communicate this using your e-commerce solution.
Shipping your product to customers may seem like an easy process to some of you. You just box it up, include a receipt and/or packing list, print a label, and then the package gets picked up. Like with the previous tip, you should be able to use existing features at your disposal to let the customer know when the fulfillment is complete and when the shipping begins. It’s often a notification that happens automatically. Even if it isn’t though, the customers should not only see that their order shipped, but they should also see what the tracking number is, and be able to click on it to check the status of it immediately.
Finishing the fulfillment process isn’t at all easy or simple though. Sometimes you have damaged product. You might have someone that called in sick that day. Boxes or product might get mixed up and sent to the wrong place. Inventory counts may be off. Any number of things might occur that you need to have a process for, and be able to easily see and react to.
Again, like with the previous tip, this could be so much better…
Automate Your Fulfillment Process
In addition to having an ERP help run your business, you should have it integrated. It’s a pretty safe bet that if you’re not personally running the online store, you have at least one person that does. They’re getting paid to make sure it’s a well-oiled machine. However, now you have at least one more person, or that much more work for your store manager to do. What happens if they’re not around or they quit? What if they make a mistake? What if they’re a new hire? What if you simply want to get more actual work done by your team, and stop paying people to do repetitive work? No one should be paying for their team to spend time processing orders.
Having an ERP helps with all of those questions, but if you seamlessly integrate the ERP into your store, you’ve just discovered the secret recipe for putting your competition out of business. You’re now starting to tip toe into the Amazon waters, where everything that can be automated actually is. This kind of integration sounds expensive, but when you factor in what you’re saving and what you’re no longer losing, it’s one of the most strategic and missing critical investments you’ll ever make for your store.
When a product is viewed, the inventory levels should match what’s in your ERP. When the customer is making the decision whether or not to buy it, they should see what the average fulfillment timeframe is currently. If they’ve been viewing the product for a long time or have had it bookmarked, a live inventory check with your ERP should occur when they attempt to add it to the cart. When they are placing the order, they should see the estimated day and time of delivery. All of these things should not only be clearly visible before the purchase, but also after when they’re viewing their receipt and order history.
When an order is placed by a customer, a member of your team looking at and approving it should be the exception, not the rule. The order should automatically be queued by your ERP to tell someone to package the products in the purchase. Shipping and packing labels should already be printed. When the package is on the dock waiting to be picked up, the payment should just be processed the same as if a person was physically making it happen. All the while, notifications are going out to your customer, letting them know when the process is updated, and what they should expect next.
To Sum Things Up…
If you choose the correct solutions for your store, these things are not only possible, but you will be in the driver’s seat for the destiny of your company. Also, now you can be paying a lot more attention to the things that really matter to your store. Why is one product or category not selling as well as others? Which products are constantly being abandoned? You can now take the time to investigate and answer the questions that will have an immediate and lasting impact on your store.
You’re not only making your customers happier, but you’re making them loyal. They’re not only coming back, but they’re willing to spend more each time they do.
You’re not only saving money from having your people perform repetitive tasks, but you’re also making more money since you’re able to now spend a lot more time thinking about how to make your customers happy.