How inventory management software impacts the customer experience
In a game of Family Feud, if the topic was "inventory management software", I wouldn’t expect to see "the customer experience" appear in any of the top matching results. We would be more likely to see terms such as "managing minimum and maximum stock levels", "demand forecasting", and "reducing stock-on-hand variances" get the points.
I’m not about to suggest that this functionality isn’t important, quite the opposite. What I am suggesting is that the marketplace has become so competitive and has changed so dramatically, that if you aren’t considering the impact on your customer experience in all facets of your operations, then you may lose business to your competitors.
Changes in customer expectations
Regardless of where you sit in the supply chain, in recent years you are likely to have experienced a significant increase in customer expectations. The game has changed and when the customer has more options at their fingertips than ever before, the pressure and demand gets pushed up the supply chain until it reaches your business. This results in a need for manufacturers and distributors to be agile, flexible, and ultimately connected.
While many business managers bemoan this new age, the reality is that things will not go back to the way they once were. So while the mantra of "adapt or get left behind" gets thrown around a bit, it is absolutely relevant in this case.
So, what does this all mean?
It means you need to ensure everything from your software applications, to your people, to your processes are aligned in a way that positions your business to not only meet the current needs of your customers, but their projected future needs as well.
How you can use inventory management software to improve the customer experience
Demand forecasting, minimum and maximum stock levels, and lot traceability all play a role in cash flow management and managing warehousing assets–yet have always been about meeting customer expectations too.
This idea of inventory management software and practices needing to positively impact the customer experience is therefore not revolutionary thinking–your business has always been about serving your customers. The key today is about seeing your role as more than just supplying goods accurately, efficiently and safely–it’s about facilitating for the total customer experience.
It is therefore as much about a mind shift as it is a shift in practices.
For example, consider timeliness deeper than meeting your service level agreement (SLA) for dispatch and delivery timeframes. Timeliness is also about providing the right information, at the right time, to aid your customers’ business decision making.
Similarly, view accuracy deeper than stock on hand variances in pure financial terms. Also consider the impact on the customer's capacity to meet their customer's expectations.
Taking a more considered approach to your value proposition, and separating your business from the masses, is the catalyst for improving the customer experience–and more deeply–is the catalyst for growth.
When you operate in a marketplace with strong direct competition and low customer exit barriers, unless you differentiate your service offering, you end up selling predominantly on elements such as price and delivery. This is a tough game as the margin for error becomes wafer thin.
When growth is high on your agenda, you need to develop innovative strategies that leverage your most valuable assets. Today, growth must be born out of the effective collaboration between great people and great technology. With these two resources working to your advantage, you have the capacity to understand your market and then react to the opportunities that are presented.
What do your customers want
If you can facilitate for the way your customers do business, then you are reducing the barriers for their doing business with you.
Ask your customers and your customer facing staff, such as sales, customer service, and accounts receivable, what is it that customers truly look for from businesses such as ours? What problems and challenges do they face and how can we help?
Sometimes in business we fall into the trap of being too narrow in our understanding of the value we can add to our customers.
It is likely that, in fact, you might not be selling widgets at all, you might be selling same day dispatch, lot billing, and real time connectivity for stock on hand and order status levels. These are the elements that make your business unique and your customers lives easier. Quite often if you are selling a commodity, the physical item is far less important in the buyer's decision than these other components.
When you know what it is your customers truly want and the direction technology is heading, then you can build a plan to have your people and software generate business growth.
Inventory management software, and ERP software more broadly for that matter, should then be a tool to assist you in delivering operational excellence and innovation. When done properly, it allows your people to operate at their best and your customers to develop a deep relationship with your business.
Posted by Vince Randall, Regional Vice President Epicor ANZ