Ron’s Thoughts: Managing the Customer Experience
In today’s world, what happens after “checkout” is just as important as the initial buying process. Supply chain disruptions and delays continue to cause fulfillment issues for vendors. Product availability is still a top concern, but other pieces of the puzzle are also missing. Keeping customers happy—and informed—throughout the fulfillment process is a challenge. But it’s one that furniture retailers need to meet head on in order to survive.
Back in March, we experienced tons of order cancellations and productions stops. Those links in the supply chain are coming back to life now, but it takes time. Another huge issue with those stops and starts was where they left shipping containers. There are thousands of shipping containers in the wrong place, with no way back; that’s driving shipping prices up and making merchants fight for limited container space. The trucking shortage was also exacerbated this year, and all that makes it harder to get product where it needs to go in a timely fashion.
On the flip side, the industry’s sales are coming back stronger than they were before. At TrueCommerce-ecUtopia, Q3 showed record months of transactions for home furnishings. People are buying more and more for their homes, because that’s where we are spending time right now. So, we have high sales volumes, which we need to sustain the industry, but lots of complications for fulfillment, which is crucial to customer satisfaction and brand reputation.
Getting information from vendors to retail buyers is the first issue. One of the ways to do that quickly is through EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), getting PO Acknowledgements, re-acknowledgements, ASNs and other documents in minutes. The ASNs tell the retailer when to expect a shipment initially. However, the ongoing documents like re-acknowledgements, EDI 214 for land transport and 315 for ocean carriers, are key today, because those updates that tell us when product will actually be delivered.
The second piece is getting information from the retailers to the consumers. If you are a large retailer, you might have thousands of purchase orders out there, and those could be constantly changing. As retailers are getting updates, they need to be proactive with their customers to make sure they have the right information. Some retailers aren’t doing that well right now, and many are suffering because they can’t get data fast enough. If you can provide great communication, you stand out among the crowd; you’re not only going to delight your customers, you’re going to have them coming back for more.
There’s lots of ways to keep customers in the loop. You could have a secure login, and behind that login show the status of each order, or a tracking code, depending on the carrier; we see that a lot in eCommerce. You can also send email notifications and push notifications, which can be automated with the right technology. The driving point is to get information to the customer, before they come to you with questions and complaints.
Because of current stock shortages, you might also have customers order something that gets discontinued or has an issue shipping. In that instance, you need to have alternate options front and center, giving your customers and easy way to replace their order without going to the competition. All these communications rely on you, the retailer, having real-time information and visibility into all your orders across the supply chain.
That’s why we are seeing record transactions in EDI, and a growing number of companies investing in EDI. It’s because companies are realizing the importance of having that behind-the-scenes visibility, not only for operational purposes, but also for customer experience management. To win against the competition, you need to be laser-focused on the customer, and solutions like TrueCommerce-ecUtopia give you the information at your fingertips to be able to do that.
Without EDI, retailers can’t get real-time information, and with things moving and changing so rapidly, out-of-date data is useless. If you are processing this information manually, it’s possible that by the time you’re being told “X” order was delayed and will be arriving on “Y” day, it might have been delayed or changed again. You don’t know where that product is in the moment, and so you can’t give customers the information they are demanding.
Supply chains for the home furnishings industry are in recovery, but there is still plenty that’s in flux right now. With the right, real-time data on hand, retailers can be proactive in their customer communications and create a positive buying experience despite inevitable delays and changes. In doing so, retailers can foster customer loyalty that will last far longer than any supply chain disruption.
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About the Author: Ron Sellers, co-founder and chief revenue officer of TrueCommerce-ecUtopia, is a technology advocate and leader for the home furnishings industry. With more than 25 years of industry-related experience, he offers significant expertise as a committee member of the Home Furnishings Association (HFA) and sits on the Executive Advisory Council for WithIt, a women’s leadership development network for the home and furnishings industries. When Ron is outside of the office, he can be found on his Harley Davidson cruising the streets.