Delighting Your Customers 8 Tips for Making Your Company Stand
Timeliness, courtesy and accuracy distinguish a top-flight, customer-centric fulfillment operation. What you do on the back end can not only make your customers feel good about doing business with you, it can separate you from your competition.
Here are some ideas on how to design your fulfillment operations or your fulfillment outsourcing relationships to build in a sense of "customer delight."
1. One size doesn't fit all. The new conventional wisdom concerning fulfillment is that it's a commodity. Challenge these opinions. Maybe the price is cheaper, but if vendor X complicates your fulfillment workflow, it's no bargain in the long run. If you are outsourcing fulfillment, look for added value.
Invest in the people, processes and technology that improve accuracy and responsiveness—or select outsource partners who can fill the gap.
2. Offer options—then deliver. Customers expect options. Whichever option you give your customer to request information or buy—be it mail, fax, phone or Web—make sure you build systems to ensure equally prompt and satisfactory levels of response. It's great if a sales rep can request additional sales brochures or product samples through the Web. It's not so great if the request takes longer to process because fulfillment e-mail is checked only once a day.
3. Think fulfillment first. Design with an eye to distribution. Here's an example of creating operational efficiencies between printing and mailing. A mutual fund company sent out time-sensitive fund performance reports to 5,000 broker/dealers on a monthly basis. These were photocopied and bound at a local copy shop, then manually inserted, labeled and metered by temporary employees. Harte-Hanks reengineered the information kit so that it could be offset printed, machine-inserted and run through postal software. Labor, postage and production costs were decreased, and the brokers received their information much sooner. In addition, the package offered the broker/dealer greater convenience and flexibility in client communications. Perforations were added so that the broker/dealer could tear out and copy funds of particular interest for their clients.
4. Centralize operations. A good working relationship between print and mail is essential. Many companies—even those who have in-house production facilities—have found that keeping printing and mailing operations closely aligned offers more productivity, better responsiveness and increased flexibility.
5. Is it a genuine e-storefront or just a prop? As e-fulfillment grows, the math certainly looks good: Print, postage, lettershop and inventory management costs can be decreased. But if the back end to your Web storefront is more like a Hollywood western stage set—all facade and no supporting operations behind it—your customers and prospects will quickly vanish.
Addressing the fulfillment challenges of smaller "e-tailers," InfoWorld's Dylan Tweney recently wrote, "Fulfillment is where the rubber meets the road. Mess this up and you won't be in business very long … Smaller companies that can't afford a [fulfillment] infrastructure need to look elsewhere for fulfillment."
6. Document and standardize. Quality improvement is a continuous process. Having a yardstick against which to measure fulfillment accuracy enables you to implement change by tracing errors to their source.
7. Don't run systems and equipment to failure. From computer systems to presses to material handling, focus on preventive maintenance rather than quick fixes. If these are outsourced operations, how will your vendor handle equipment and technology downtime?
8. Commit to the finer points of tactical implementation. Paying attention to detail can be monumentally exhausting but so is troubleshooting later on. Every hour spent confirming that the database is orderly, for example, will save days of downtime and troubleshooting when it's least affordable.
Curt A. Byerley is the president of Harte-Hanks/PMSI (Printing Management Systems Inc.) in Bellmawr, NJ. He can be reached at (609) 933-3000.