The distribution industry is going through a monumental shift. Industry disruptors, like Amazon, are constantly finding new ways to change the game. To keep pace with competition and mitigate the risk of lost business, many distributors are fulfilling each unique client request – regardless of how it impacts operations. In many cases, this means putting undue stress on warehouse staff to meet customer expectations. While this might be keeping client complaints at bay, it can lead to a situation where warehouse and transportation employees’ needs are placed on the back burner. To alleviate some of the burden that keeping up with customer expectations can put on your team, there are a few variables that should be standardized to optimize operations.
Order Frequencies and Minimums
Two variables that often go hand in hand when it comes to creating additional work are order frequencies and order minimums. These variables are also high on a customer’s list for customization. Order minimums are created to reduce inefficiencies in delivery and in the warehouse. Without order minimums in place, customers are free to order as much (or as little) of a product at one time. Minimums set an appropriate level of product to be selected to minimize trips through the warehouse for order selectors and also reduce the ordering frequency for customers. If a customer orders a week’s supply once a week as opposed to a half week’s supply twice a week, you can gain efficiencies in order selection and inventory control. These efficiencies will also manifest themselves by reducing the potential trips to a customer and miles driven by the delivery driver.
All distributors have deadlines for placing orders during the day or week. Customers want ordering windows that end as close to the delivery window as possible, giving them the most time to determine and place an order for their needs. As the order window approaches the delivery window, the delivery and warehouse operations are more crunched for time – causing increased stress and room for error. If routing gets behind for the day due to late orders, it will affect the entire operation. If orders for the day have not been dropped in the system, selectors cannot begin selecting product and forklifts cannot refill the necessary slots to begin the day. Delaying the warehouse operations will, in turn, delay when the delivery drivers can dispatch for the day.
Clients can be very particular regarding the times they want deliveries to arrive. These delivery time constraints will often lead to inefficient routing of the delivery stops. If not monitored closely by the routing department, drivers can be sent to locations that are not prepared to receive the delivery. Drivers may have to wait until the time the customer is available to receive the delivery. If the driver chooses to skip the delivery and come back, they will incur additional miles to return to the skipped customer later in the route to complete the delivery. This adds work to make deliveries around the skipped customer, and forces drivers to back-track later to fulfill the skipped delivery. These actions lengthen the day for the driver, bringing Department of Transportation limits for drive time into play.
Meeting every ad-hoc request your customers makes can cause roadblocks throughout your order fulfillment and transportation processes and take an excessive toll on your warehouse and delivery employees. And while the intent is to make your customers happy, it may end up having an adverse effect on your customer experience as well. Does your team know when to draw a hard line in the sand to limit these inefficiencies? We’d be happy to discuss your thoughts around improving your employees’ experience while meeting your customer expectations!