The art of B2B fulfillment and how to improve customer loyalty
Usually when you read about fulfillment, the discussion is focused on some logistical or technical aspect of delivering goods to customers. Of course, there are many operational tasks and backend processes that all must harmonize in order to make it happen. You will find a plethora of information available, ranging from the basics like reducing freight costs to sophisticated robotic picking systems. It can be daunting to figure out which elements are best for your business.
I am going to challenge you to take a step back and consider fulfillment from a different perspective. Think of fulfillment as an opportunity to advance your corporate brand and enhance customer satisfaction. Done effectively with a strong company-wide commitment, “artful” fulfillment can augment your other initiatives that are intended to please customers.
When it comes to pleasing customers, everything matters. Each part of the experience, from product research to the crescendo of putting it into use is important. Similar to a weak link in a chain, if any part of this sequence of events is disappointing to the customer it compromises the entire experience.
Reinforce brand image and get out of the transaction mindset
The success criteria for fulfillment practices are often very straightforward and easy to measure. Heavy emphasis is often placed on operational aspects of fulfillment, such as the time between order placement and shipment, picking/packing cost to process an order, etc. While these facets are certainly important to achieving fulfillment success, they do not consider the impact on customer satisfaction.
For example, a process change that cuts order picking time by 30% is not effective if it has a corresponding increase in picking errors. Each error is devastating to that particular customer’s experience.
The underlying mantra to strive for is “We are not simply checking boxes on a list of operational requirements to a product. More importantly, we are interacting with human beings with real emotions and expectations, and our goal is building strong relationships, not just selling and delivering stuff efficiently”.
Every initiative needs to be considered through the lens of “how does this make things better for the customer”. If the answer is “it doesn’t” – then it should be re-considered.
Strive for purchase reinforcement and delight your customers
Every touchpoint with the customer is either enhancing or diminishing the customer’s sentiment about the brand. There is an often undervalued element of marketing called “purchase reinforcement”. In short, purchase reinforcement is a way of assuring your customers that they made the right choice in the critical time right after the purchase is made. There are many things to reassure your customers that they made the right decision.
These are obviously very product-centric, but here are examples centered around fulfillment:
- Thank you notes: Hand-written notes included with purchase thanking the customer for their business. This is often referenced as a great way to impress people, yet it is very underutilized. People typically don’t ignore hand-written notes like they commonly do with emails.
- Follow-up emails: That being said, emails do have their place. Consider personalized emails (or even follow-up phone calls) to customers, asking how the experience was. You may have just forged a relationship or better yet created an advocate for your company. However, if they do have issues, they will relish the fact that you reached out to them in their “time of need”.
- Address the issues: This is probably most important of all of your customer interactions! Returns, quality issues, questions on proper use, etc. Issues will inevitably arise, and how you handle them is critically important. Think of a customer issue as a touchpoint on steroids. If you handle it flawlessly, your brand/reputation is actually elevatedin the customers’ minds. They will be impressed that you were adept at dealing with a challenge. Conversely, if you don’t handle it extremely well – you may have lost them forever. Customer challenges are not “hassles that must be dealt with”, but a grand opportunity to impress the heck out of your valued customers.