By Debora Griffith, Towne AllPoints Direct Marketing & Fulfillment
From the days of bingo cards, faxed and telephone orders, to hosting websites and real-time reporting, the methods to request material or products have changed. That being said, our clients’ objectives and expectations have not. The objective is to respond in a timely manner to the end user and get marketing materials or purchases to the requestor.
It is easy to get trapped into the minutia when setting up a new client. The company immediately starts thinking about what they need to know in terms of number of orders, storage, shipping carriers, SLA’s, web portals, users, etc. But before you contemplate the operational aspects, it is more important to understand what the user expectations are from your client. I won’t delve into the operational aspects of fulfillment but more of the ways that you can provide the opportunity to partner with your clients versus just providing fulfillment services.
Fulfillment is still marketing.
Think about what you learned in your marketing class and apply it to your client’s fulfillment program. The first step taken with the new client is to understand their business. For example: are they Nordstroms or are they K-mart? This understanding applies from the time that the order is placed to the time that it arrives at its destination.
One of the first steps in the relationship is the placement of the order. What type of information is desired to be communicated after order placement? This includes estimated transit time, order status and tracking information. Transit time can kill a sale. Think about the consumer purchasing a diet book online. A national book publisher recently did not provide the estimated delivery until the order was submitted.
Can you imagine the surprise upon submitting the order to be told that there was a 3 to 4 week delivery window? When an individual decides that it is time to go on a diet and chooses the one to follow, a wait that long is way too long. This is a national publisher that didn’t think about the entire process and may have resulted in a higher return due to unhappy customers.
In contrast, there are businesses like a high-end coffee club that pamper the member by having their order the next day without spending a fortune on next day shipping charges.
Updating customer order status is important and can’t be taken lightly as one of our clients discovered first hand last month. The inventory was delayed but instead of letting customers know about the delay, they told them that the orders had been shipped. The inventory arrived in our warehouse 4 days after the ship date which was provided to the customers. Fortunately, we were able to get the entire batch of orders shipped the day they arrived, but it was 4 days later than promised. This caused enormous backlash and inundated customer service with needless inquiries. The jury is still out as to the immediate revenue loss involved in this blunder, but I would venture to guess that repeat customer orders will be affected.
Even when it is not your fault, it is your fault.
Be very careful when you select your preferred carrier. We found that one carrier may have been slightly less costly, however we experienced more damages to packages. It is important to share your expertise with your clients so that they can make informed decisions. We have a regional carrier that doesn’t deliver into gated communities and leaves packages at the guard shack. Again it is important to understand the ramifications of one’s decision and how it impacts the customer experience.
During the holiday season many retailers advertised delivery by Christmas if orders were placed by X date. This was great for retailers getting additional sales, but very upsetting to the consumers whose plans for Christmas may have been challenged due to unmet delivery dates. I found myself in this group of shoppers and needed to improvise while cooking Christmas dinner due to non-receipt of my order. I didn’t receive the change date information until the day after Christmas. Had I been notified that the package was not going to arrive, I would have had the opportunity to brave the mall and purchase in the store. Now granted this was not the retailer’s issue, but it ultimately is as they selected the carrier.
Everyone is familiar with the trademark smile that is printed on the packages shipped through Amazon. Would you recommend to all fulfillment clients to brand their packages? I would have to say it depends. If you are fulfilling a hair care product do you think the individual wants that box screaming “balding” consumer or if it is a very expensive item that there is a risk of theft, you may want a non-descript box. It also is not just about the box, but about the packaging inside the box. If the last thing your client experiences with you is a box that can’t be opened, or enormous amount of filler around the product they will be annoyed. To use the coffee club company mentioned earlier, this company made an effort to outline the feeling that each customer receives with each order, even down to which direction the end of the sleeves of coffee should point.
No one wants return orders. They are very time consuming and costly. If you think about the last time you tried to return an item, did the company make it easy? Zappos comes to mind as a great example of keeping their customers happy. Their generous policy allows for 365 days after purchase to return the item – no matter how much it was worn. They even pay for the return shipping! Of course much of the decision on a returns policy is contingent upon the value of the product.
We are not in the most glamorous industry but we can make a difference for our clients by taking time to walk them through the process and imagine yourself from the eyes of the end recipient.
Remember, the happier the customers, the higher the chance of repurchase which means more revenue in your client’s pockets and ultimately yours.
Debora Griffith is CEO with Towne AllPoints. She has over 15 years experience in the industry and loves to find solutions for the issues that clients face and participate in their successful programs. Towne celebrated 60 years in Southern California and provides direct mail, digital print and fulfillment services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.