Third Party Fulfillment and the Customer Experience
By Heidi Chapnick and Mike Chirveno
So you say, “What is OMNI channel commerce?” And then, when you hear that it means allowing customers to purchase from your company through the retail brick and mortar, their laptop or their smartphone, you say, “Yes, I want that!” But, alas, your flower shop doesn’t have retail locations in Medicine Hat, Canada or Amenia, New York and wonder, “how can I get my product to them?”
The answer lies in Third Party Fulfillment. It is the only way that you can get a representation of your product with your brand out to the recesses of North America ….so you sign a contract with local vendors in towns that you are not currently holding brick interests in, and you think all is grand. You have set up your systems so that when a customer orders from an area in which you have no retail location with which to send the order, the order flies through cyberspace and lands in the third party retail location in the desert, where Susan is waiting for her birthday flowers, or Mr. Grand is waiting for his funeral arrangement for his friend’s memorial. You pay that third party retailer and you’re done, right? The short answer is – no. You’re a super-conscientious business owner who takes care of every order that comes in – it doesn’t matter if it’s a first-time customer, a long-time customer or an order that you’re fulfilling for someone else. You do each of them perfectly. Are you sure that the third-party retailer you’ve selected to fulfill your orders is just as conscientious?
The temptation with any outsourced relationship is to assume that each outsourced task is done just the way you envisioned. That’s a dangerous assumption to make. Do you know if your customer received the experience they desired? Does your customer service follow this order through the vendor to the customer? Are your systems integrated with the third party vendors that you support? Do you have any way of knowing that your order, with your branding and your name on it got to its desired location? Unfortunately, the answer most of the time is a resounding “No”. Once the order goes out to the vendor, most do not track it through the eyes of the customer. Even in an outsourced relationship, the responsibility is yours.
I ordered flowers four times this year, each for a relative in a different geographic location. Three of these orders had problems. One just didn’t arrive, one went to the wrong apartment and one came a day after the birthday…one was NOT even the type of flowers requested and neither was I called to discuss the substitution given.. I was the one who had to track this and deal with this. The host company didn’t even know that there were issues. Why? Because they do not follow through with their local vendors. The host company had me call the local vendor and the local vendor said I had to call the host (originating) company to resolve. In every instance, I was on the phone for a minimum of 30 minutes. I was on hold for another 23 minutes. This is NOT being customer-centric.
There are many ways to mitigate the risks of giving up control for order fulfillment to a local vendor as well as many advantages (revenue, growth, brand awareness). The best in class way to provide exemplary customer service is for the host company to track the order from the time it leaves the hub store to the time it is delivered to its desired location. This can be done with customer service software and by employing one or more of the many Voice-of-Customer tools available today. There’s not a single right way to make this happen for every organization, but let us throw out a few ideas that will allow you to manage the entire customer experience even though you might be outsourcing part of the process –
- Send the customer a follow up email from your POS or ERP system on the day the product is scheduled for delivery. Ask for follow up via email or better yet, include a link to an online survey asking for feedback on the order process and fulfillment.
- Monitor your social media accounts for customer service complaints and if you get one, resolve it immediately. Negative posts on social channels should receive a response in less than an hour. That response should include a brief overview of how you’re going to resolve the problem (so everyone can read it) and an offer to take the conversation offline for the person making the complaint.
- Track the performance of every Third Party Fulfiller. Each vendor should be graded on accuracy, quality and on-time delivery. Communicate results to the vendors regularly. Vendors who do not deliver should be eliminated from your network. It’s better that you not have a presence in a city than to have an under-performing presence.
Third Party Fulfillment can be a great opportunity to leverage your brand into new geographic areas. It can also be a great opportunity to connect with other like-minded businesses in your industry. But like every other healthy relationship, it has to be built on trust, shared values and a commitment to telling each other the truth while consistently working on continuous improvement in the customer experience.
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