Dennis Luther, Vice President, Contract Administration, CDS Global
Dave Dutch, Senior Vice President, Business Solutions, CDS Global
In today’s climate of diverse marketplaces and communities, brand is king – and handling customer interactions is mission-critical to a brand’s success. As companies seek to take their consumer products to market, their marketers and operational directors are faced with the challenge of making the interaction with their brand a positive experience for the consumer, while maintaining lean operating budgets and maximizing their return on investment.
The difficulty for many of these businesses is ensuring accurate, efficient order management and fulfillment. Without it, businesses lack the resources to effectively handle their customer interactions and access data from multiple areas of their business. Unless a business’s customer service, e-commerce, payment processing, and warehouse and distribution areas can connect effectively with one another, a business wastes precious resources due to a lack of communication.
This lack of communication among the various areas of a business not only slows down present operations, but also hinders future growth, as accurate data is not available for planning marketing campaigns, tracking inventory or estimating future shipments. Back-end processes must also be complemented by positive experiences with areas that bring orders into your organization, such as your call center and Web site, which provide a first impression much like a retail store front.
While many options for order management are available to the consumer product marketer, combining a robust order management system with ancillary services such as customer service, e-commerce, and warehouse and distribution allows businesses to effectively manage their current business, as well as plan for future growth. By utilizing an integrated order management solution, you can best boost your brand while serving the needs of today’s multichannel environment.
With the advent of technologies such as mobile phones and social networking, consumers are accessing information about a brand from a plethora of media forms. Consumers may hear about a product through a print publication, check out the product’s Web site from their smartphone, and share information about the product through one of many social networking sites. As these channels become more numerous and diverse, marketers are realizing that managing customer interactions is becoming more complex, not less. Those who market consumer products must be able to handle the many channels through which consumers interact with a product, as well as the channels through which they ultimately order those products. And, as the channels through which consumers interact with a brand become more diverse, business models also become more diverse.
However, many businesses are facing the reality that they must perform these critical tasks with limited resources. No matter the reason, the challenge is the same – how to maintain exceptional service with limited resources.
Just as providing excellent customer service is necessary to a business’s success, the importance of maintaining accurate data has not diminished. But again, maintaining this data requires expert handling. When resources are tight, performing proper information management, order tracking and payment processing is difficult. And without the proper resources to automate these tasks, valuable time is devoted to manual processing, keeping personnel from performing other critical business functions.
Therefore, today’s businesses are seeing the need to maintain accurate, efficient and secure order management – and the most successful businesses are realizing that order management must not be an isolated part of their business, but an integral “hub” that drives all other efforts and operations.
With customer information coming from so many different sources, it is imperative for businesses to see their order management system as a central hub that receives, feeds and processes information from all areas of the business. As an analyst for a leading market research firm reported in November 2008, “... success in consistently delivering a perfect order eludes many enterprises because existing systems lack the flexibility to deftly move orders across the end-to-end order management cycle.” Without such a solution in place, valuable customer data may not be accurate, and the company lacks the efficiencies and resources to effectively handle their customer interactions and access data from multiple areas.
Businesses must be able to not only store their data accurately, but also retrieve and report upon that data. By easily retrieving data from its OMS, a business can use the data for personalized, targeted marketing efforts that build relationships with current customers and generate leads with new customers. Without an integrated solution, this critical communication will not take place in an efficient manner, wasting the precious resources of personnel and time. Also, without the full integration of customer data, a company’s modeling efforts are made more difficult, as the accurate storage and reporting of data has not taken place.
To be successful, businesses need to handle a variety of operations along their supply chain. When these operations are in sync with one another, the business runs much more efficiently. To do this most effectively, organizations should see the order management portion of their business as the core that all other functions of their operation intersect, with reciprocal relationships moving out from this hub into the other areas of a business.
An effective order management system will feed the necessary information to a business’s customer service center to assist with billing information, relevant up-sells and client information updates such as account and service changes. The customer service center then feeds information back to the OMS after updates are made or orders are taken.
The OMS keeps customer payment history for accurate payment processing and internal accounting, with the payment processing group providing information back to the OMS.
The e-commerce team is able to retrieve customer history from the OMS and is also able to provide accurate inventories, as well as update offers, promotions and specials. The OMS receives and stores order information from the Web store and ancillary online environments.
The warehouse and distribution division receives order requests from the OMS and feeds information back to the OMS to properly manage inventory and update shipping information as well as provide tracking mechanisms for customers.
With this data being shared between all areas of the business, the OMS can ultimately be used to help the business with its internal accounting and finance functions, since reports of payment and customer information are readily available. Also, the OMS can provide Business Intelligence data, giving reports related to customer activity.
While some businesses have boosted these areas by handling their order management in-house, others have chosen to outsource their order management, simply because they lack the economies of skill and/or scale to properly manage this area of their business. No matter what your situation, it is important to understand the pros and cons of each order management solution.
If your business is focused on a single channel or has very unique business requirements, you may not require a robust order management system. In that case, you have a few internal options for your order management.
When considering order management, some companies have chosen to implement their own solution, building their own system to meet their unique business requirements. The system may be built from scratch or created with open source infrastructure, which gives the company exactly what it needs. However, many companies are unable to incur the high cost associated with this option, and also lack either the personnel or capital to not only implement, but also continue to support, such a solution.
Another option available to businesses is to purchase an OMS software package that can be integrated within their organization. While this option can be cost-effective and may enable a growing business to get up and running quickly, the solution does have its disadvantages. Support for these types of systems is often less-than-satisfactory. As in-house personnel reach out for system support, they are faced with the reality that these packages often offer no more than a customer service line, rather than dedicated account management staff. Therefore, time is spent trying to work with the system rather than having the system work for the company. These systems are typically designed as a “one-size-fits-all” solution instead of a tailor-made system that considers an organization’s unique business requirements. While seemingly cost-effective in the short term, these systems can be very difficult to personalize and integrate, making them especially ineffective as a company grows its business.
Other companies find that outsourcing their order management function has many advantages, as vendors manage this area of the business so they don’t have to.
Once a company chooses to outsource, it may be persuaded to select the low-cost, market-controlled solution of a commoditized provider. While this solution may sound appealing due to the ability to significantly reduce costs by outsourcing business processes, it has many disadvantages. Often, these systems lack the ability to fully integrate with other systems within the organization. And because the commoditized solution is so focused on margins, these providers may not go above and beyond to invest in the upmost security and compliance. With new legislation such as payment card processing compliance coming out continuously, many vendors offering the commoditized solution have trouble keeping up with the updates. Although appealing for cost purposes, commoditized piecemeal solutions fall short of the integrated solution that many companies in the business of consumer products require.
Because of these limitations, the best outsourced OMS solution is a robust, reliable and flexible order management system that can integrate with all areas of your company’s business. These systems not only give you the tools required to store and retrieve your data, they also give you the customization and support that is needed in today’s ever-changing business climate.
By choosing to partner with a value-added provider, your business receives much more than a single, one-time solution. Because full-service providers offer customized solutions to your unique business needs and can work with you to customize the categories of your system, you can better manage your customer relationships.
Also, the advanced support available from full-service providers gives you the ability to focus on your business, not the technical issues associated with a system’s architecture. Full-service providers who offer the personnel needed to manage your account properly will work with you to solve any issues you may encounter with the system – making the process much easier than trying to resolve issues with a call to customer service.
Full-service providers are also focused on process improvement, rather than simply profit margins. Unlike the commoditized solution, this solution promises the resources to reinvest in enhancements to the system, which means the system grows with your business and doesn’t become a static solution that only works for your short-term needs.
Organizations with flexible systems have more options for integration and can best handle the business rules required to effectively manage campaigns such as one-shots and continuity programs and to process customer orders. These systems enable the organization to have more flexibility and functionality with their marketing efforts.
When choosing a full service provider that offers ancillary services, look for a flexible system that utilizes the latest technologies to handle your orders as they are received from multiple channels. Also, be sure that the provider partners with leading organizations to offer the most robust solutions possible.
While businesses have many options when considering how best to manage their products orders, the solution that offers the most long-term success is the fully-featured, value-added OMS provider. By partnering with the feature-rich, flexible provider, you can better integrate your OMS with all areas of your business, helping your brand thrive by expertly handling your business processes and customer interactions.
CDS Global is a leading provider of outsourced business solutions to direct marketers, nonprofits, financial institutions, municipalities, utilities and publishers.