“The system is down. We can’t ship any customer orders. We’re not sure when the system will be back up again.”
Coming into the Holidays, the busiest time of the year, that is the last thing that I wanted to hear.
I thought about it and said, “The Customer doesn’t care.”
From that point forward we pulled together the necessary resources and visibility to get the problem solved quickly. But the message was clear: The Customer doesn’t care about our internal problems.
E-Commerce customers are very clear in their actions and reactions. They will go to your competitors as quickly as it takes to click if they have a bad experience with your company. Not only will your customers leave you, but they will tell other people about their bad experience. This is especially impactful with the power of social media. And other customers will leave you AND potential customers will never even give you a chance.
The customer experience spans the entire sales cycle. From the time a customer enters your web site through to placing an order, entering their personal information, getting shipping updates and notifications, receiving their order, and dealing with your returns process (if necessary) you must ensure that your processes and systems are robust enough to provide a positive customer experience.
So it is quite appropriate to always remember that Customers do not care about your company’s internal problems. Whether your IT system is down, any of your equipment is down for maintenance, trucks are late, or you have run out of product, your CUSTOMERS DO NOT CARE.
To create a Customer-focussed culture it is critically important to drive home this message. Whenever someone is telling you about a problem that is impacting your customers, without having a plan to address it, then you have to remember the mantra that “Customers do not care about your internal problems”.
With this thinking in mind it is appropriate to take the steps necessary to mitigate, if not eliminate, any factors which may impact your ability to meet your commitments to your Customers. And this is stretched to the limit, and beyond, during the Holiday season, the busiest time of the year.
Here are some of the areas that you should review:
If you do not receive product, physically and systemically, into your Distribution Centre, chances are that it will not show as available to sell. Does your receiving process have enough capacity to handle the dramatically higher volumes coming in advance of the Holiday season? You don’t want unreceived goods sitting in trailers outside of your facility because you are out of capacity in receiving.
Your systems must handle the dramatically higher volume of transactional activity that comes during the peak season. Further you must have backups and redundancy in place so that you can quickly get your systems back up. Having your system down for even a few minutes can result in the loss of hundreds if not thousands of orders.
This covers all of your systems including your Order Management System, Warehouse Management System, Transportation Management System, Enterprise Resource Planning System, and Financial Management System.
At the busiest time of year everyone is trying to recruit temporary employees to help support the higher seasonal volume. It is also at that time of year when you need your employees to be their most productive.
Your HR team needs to be have their own staffing and processes in place to recruit, screen and hire a large number of employees quickly. Further you need to train these new employees rapidly and efficiently. And finally if you can’t retain all of these employees you need to recruit and train even more employees. Without this staffing you will not likely have the manpower to allow you to process all of your customer orders.
If you need to run multiple shifts per day, or run seven days/week, you should ensure that you are building the proper infrastructure to support that. This means having the appropriate level of management, supervision and support services working on all shifts and every day. Do you intend to staff a night shift entirely with temporary staff, all newly hired and recently trained? You are most likely going to have a highly unproductive shift wasting both time and money.
Your Distribution Centre has many different operations. Those operations which involve equipment (eg. sortation, labelling, conveyance) must have the capacity to handle the peak volume. Are you offering a gift wrapping capability, or any form of packaging personalization? Do you have enough of this equipment to support the higher demand? Further you must know that this equipment will still need regular, if not more frequent, maintenance. Foregoing maintenance at the busiest time of year can be a recipe for extended operational downtime and lost capacity.
It is also important to test the Quality controls in your process, especially with the number of new employees you have filling customer orders. If a customer receives a damaged product, or the wrong quantity of product, you will have destroyed an otherwise good customer experience.
For your inbound goods you need to have contingencies in place to ensure that goods will continue to come your way. If you are shipping goods via ocean and your port of call is closed because of a dock-worker’s strike you still need to get a hold of your goods. You can always ship via airplane but that can be an extremely expensive proposition.
During the Holiday season all carriers are busy to the extreme. They are handling an unprecedented number of packages that come every year with the boom in E-Commerce. You need to ensure that you have worked with your carriers. Show them your forecasts and secure the capacity you need in advance. Additionally you need to ensure that cut-off times for pick up of customer packages from your facility are strictly followed by your operations and your shipping partners.
You must also consider what to do if there are weather related delays that can often come during the winter.
And you must be highly cognizant of your cut-off times for making delivery promises to customers. Can you ensure that your customers will have their packages before Christmas if you take orders on December 22nd? If not, you need to ensure that you set a cut-off date that is realistic. Christmas is not when you want to disappoint a customer because your package did not arrive under their Christmas tree on time.
One issue to address is to ensure your system cannot take in more orders than you have product for. This can be especially challenging during Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Orders are coming in at an alarming rate. It’s better to test for this issue now. This is much easier than having to call a customer to tell them you can’t fill the order you just took from them.
It is also important to ensure that there is complete visibility to your promotional plans throughout the organization. In the excitement of the Holiday season your Marketing team may be concocting all kinds of last-minute promotions. But if your Distribution Centre and Supply Chain teams aren’t aware of these promotions they will be caught flat-footed when it comes time to rapidly fill these orders.
The Customer Service team, or Call Centre, is a vital part of the operation. They deal with any customer concerns in real-time. I admire the people in these positions. They often have to deal with volatile and delicate situations. Yet they remain patient as they work to solve the customer’s problem.
During the Holiday season you need to ensure that your Customer Service team is also staffed and trained appropriately. Especially given the higher level of transactional activity. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than calling Customer Service only to find the person on the other end doesn’t know how to help.
Overall it is always a good idea to stress test your system, your processes, and your employees. Run a simulation of Black Friday/Cyber Monday well in advance of those days. Flush out any problems and give yourself extra time to put preventive measures and contingencies in place.
When I hear someone tell me about an internal problem that will impact a Customer I tell that person that they will have to personally call the Customer and tell them about the issue. When they look at me not knowing whether I am serious I tell them what they are going to hear from the Customer: the Customer Doesn’t Care!
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