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Improve CX with better inventory management

10th Mar 2017
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You have packaged and shipped a product to a customer. Several days later, that angry customer contacts you to state that they did not get the item they ordered. You are now faced with a customer-relations issue that is going to involve that customer re-packaging the item and getting it back to you, even if you supply a prepaid mailing label.

Suppose it is two days before Christmas, and the ordered item will now not be under the tree. You have probably lost a customer, at best, and you may find yourself doing damage control on social media as well.

Whether you produce and sell a product or purchase products from manufacturers for sale, you cannot survive without solid inventory management and control. There are two key aspects to inventory management that you should consider for better customer experience:

  • Ensuring that you have enough raw material to continue to produce your product or enough items in stock to meet potential demand. Tracking your sales will be a critical piece of this task.
  • Ensuring that there is a system in place that gets the right ordered item to the customer, and gets it there in a timely manner.

Your storage facility or facilities are your hubs of inventory. They are physical places and there needs to be a system in place that keeps those physical places organized. At the same time, there must be a system in place to track inventory so that you know what you have and what you need. Here are some tips to keep all of this on track.

The Manual Tasks

Your products are stored in your hub. There has to be a systematic and logical organization. Here are some tips regarding that storage system.

  • Every Aisle is Labeled – at Both Ends: this you must physically do. As workers retrieve items, they first need to find the correct aisle.
  • Every Shelf in Every Aisle is Labeled: Specific items must be labeled, preferable with arrows point up or down on the separation bar between those shelves. If this is not done, new workers especially will err in item retrieval. Large companies have computerized systems built right into retrieval vehicles, but as a small to mid-sized company, you will not.
  • You May Need Item Descriptions: If you have clothing items of different sizes and colors, there must be a unique description for each of them. This can be automated, by codes, but there must be a physical label that includes the code or physical description. Consider how a big box home improvement center labels its products on its shelves for consumers. The same type of labeling system must exist in your hub. This is not only for retrieval purposes; it is for inventory control as well, so that you do not run out of something. Nothing is more irritating to customers to receive a letter or an email saying something is on backorder because you are out. It may be the supplier’s fault, but you can reduce the incidence by making sure it is not yours.

In fact, you can borrow a good procedure from the wire harness assemblies and manufactures – an item numbering system. It will identify specific items both on the physical shelf and in your data control system. This can replace the longer text item descriptions that may be on the shelf labeling and in your control system. Numbers can indicate such things as size, color, number of units, etc.

The Automated Function – Getting the Right Software

You have three tasks here. You need to track arrival of inbound raw materials/items you have ordered; you need to control when items are retrieved, packaged and shipped out to a customer; and you need to control the amount of any item that you have remaining on those shelves. For these three tasks you need the right software.

Tracking Inbound and Outbound Shipments: When what you have ordered arrives, you need a system for entering receipt of the product. When you send a package out to a customer, you need a system that informs the customer and provides tracking information. And when that customer receives an order, you need to know it. Getting a comprehensive package tracking software is a must.

Inventory Control Software: There are lots of options out there, but you need to consider several criteria, not the least of which is a system that will meet your needs years down the road as you grow.

One of the most labor-intensive projects as you begin to use a digital inventory control system is entering all of your labeling, descriptions, and coding into the software you have selected. It is eased significantly if you have carefully organized that inventory manually prior to data entry.

The manual aspect of inventory control is never really eliminated. At last once a month, your inventory should be physically counted and compared with the data you have in your system.

Managing Employees

Using your software correctly means that all employees working with inventory in any capacity must be fully trained in the procedures and processes. Failure to do this can be disastrous. Put all of the procedures in a manual so you have them for every new employee, including your customer service representatives.

First of all, your support team should be able to immediately access the inventory data and re-check weather the order item is in stock/available for immediate shipment. If anything goes wrong with the customer package, your team should precisely know where the hiccup has occurred and navigate the situation from there.

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