As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
There can’t be anything more important to an e-commerce business than the experience of its customers when buying a product. The experience of ordering something and having it arrive can be quite emotive and exciting. Admit it, who doesn’t love having something delivered to their door?
This experience is a big part of what keeps your customers engaged and turns them into brand ambassadors. You need to ensure your customers get the best possible service at every step of the order process, from checkout to fulfilment. Anything less risks losing trust, engagement and loyalty. That can lead to bad reviews, which can be damaging to a growing e-commerce brand.
E-commerce companies know that the two most important aspects of user experience come at the two ends of the process. The first is navigation and order placement/checkout on the website. Unsurprisingly, many companies focus on this aspect with laser like detail.
The online experience is often given top priority, which is understandable, but what about the overall customer experience?
At the other end of the chain is the crucial touch point; delivery of goods. Do you think your customers are getting a great experience when it comes to delivery? For many e-commerce retailers, especially small and growing merchants, this is done from the kitchen table or somebody’s desk in a small office. For larger, more established merchants it usually involves the complexities of leased warehousing and logistics management. Either way retailers usually find this part of the process complex, time-consuming and expensive.
Outsourcing the warehousing and shipping of goods makes perfect sense for a growing business in need of efficient customer service.
Fulfilment companies expertly manage the handling of goods at every step of the order process. They can take a heavy burden from the shoulders of the retailer by taking care of making sure goods arrive on time and in good shape.
However, it’s fair to say that retailers are only as good as their fulfilment partners. Outsourcing customer interaction to a third party carries risk. How that fulfilment company delivers on your promise is critical to retaining customer trust and satisfaction.
Customers expect seamless and joined up service. When the fulfilment system fails, they will blame you, not your fulfilment company.
Any slip in standards will reflect primarily on you as the retailer. So, what should e-commerce companies be demanding of their fulfilment partner to ensure that customer experience is never compromised?
Technology plays a key role in e-commerce fulfilment. So firstly, take a close look at the tech that’s being used. Your e-commerce platform and channels need to talk directly to the fulfilment partner’s platform to notify you of new orders, despatch and so on. There are literally hundreds of e-commerce platforms and channels out there from Shopify to BigCommerce, eBay to Amazon, and dozens of smaller names. New platforms are appearing all the time. Your fulfilment partner should have the technology to be able to talk to all the major e-commerce systems, and the flexibility to implement a solution if no solution currently exists.
Second, what about communications? Like any service business, communication with you as a client, is key.
Does your fulfilment partner prioritise and invest in the right communications platform? That means not only keeping you the retailer in the loop on operational matters, but staying in touch with customers to keep them updated on what to expect?
E-commerce fulfilment involves the storage and movement of thousands of physical items of all shapes and sizes around the country and the world. It’s a major logistical challenge. Things are bound to go wrong at some point – that’s a given. So problem-solving and fixing issues when they go wrong is a key part of the service delivery. Responsiveness, communication and efficiency of problem-solving are what to look out for in choosing your fulfilment partner? So, look for reviews, testimonials and internet chat amongst other retailers for clues as to how problems are handled.
In e-commerce fulfilment one size does not fit all. Your fulfilment partner should be able to grow along with you until you reach the very highest levels of success and are shipping thousands of packages a week.
How responsive and flexible is your fulfilment provider? There are some large fulfilment companies that, thanks to their size, have no reason to flex and adapt to your needs as a customer. The bigger players may have the reach, but are they there for your customers when you need them in a pinch?
The key is to ask questions of your prospective fulfilment company and grill them on the size and shape of customers they are already handling. Find out what price breaks are available on higher volumes. Delve into the experiences of other customers and check out online forums and reviews.
Engaging a fulfilment company will release your time, space and attention from the complexities of fulfilment. Finding the right partner is a crucial decision that can help or hinder your business. The more questions you ask the better informed your decision will be.
Most fulfilment companies don’t publish all the prices. Does this mean they’re worried their prices might chase you away? And if they do publish prices, there are often hidden prices. Some things to ask your potential fulfilment company are:
Do they give you a Client Success Manager? Someone dedicated to helping you solve problems and grow, a real person that you can develop a working relationship with?
If the fulfilment company wants a long term contract ask yourself why they need this. If they’re good at what they do, they shouldn’t need to lock you into a long time term contract. Don’t agree to one, keep them on their toes. If they’re good they’ll be part of your success story. If not, they don’t deserve to be.
You’re only as good as your fulfilment company when it comes to keeping your customers happy. And with such a competitive landscape, any slippage on time, quality or efficiency can prove deadly to a growing e-commerce business.
As the old cliché says, a happy customer tells one person about their experience; an unhappy one tells ten. With reviews so crucial now, poor delivery performance can seriously damage your business’s ratings on the major sites. Getting it right is the only option.
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