Guest Column - July/August 2019

Give a Great Experience With Fulfillment

By Scott Reinhart


Changing the experience not only for customers but for clients through fulfillment and 3PL (third-party logistics) distribution services is driving not only cost savings but expectations. Companies need more value and lasting impressions for employees and customers in today's markets. Placing an order, opening it and use of product is just the external task of making a program successful. The internal (hidden) tasks are what set the experience apart. The ease, sensation, remembrance and the impact all build a lasting impression, and the fulfillment center you select is a key player in making that happen.

There are things to consider when you are planning a great fulfillment experience, from customization to differentiation, choosing the right partner and, most importantly, determining if your company can handle the fulfillment aspect itself. Fulfillment is very important to each of your customers.

Everyone Is Different

Every company, customer and employee has their own personal touch that differentiates them from others. Whether it is different company values, employee taste or customer wants, the bottom line is that the experience needs to be a positive, lasting one. Suppliers are seeing this in today's request to satisfy customers. Whether it's shipping internationally, timing of a delivery, kitting items together, special packaging, white glove deliveries, a custom insert or one of many other requests, fulfillment operations must be flexible and able to adapt to the "on the go" needs of their customers to be successful.

It's the Little Things!

Have you ever received a brown box with clear tape and a shipping label on it? Sure, you have; we all have for many years now. Can you remember one of the first times you received a package at home? Fun, right? Today, maybe not.

As we order more and more consumer goods online every day, suppliers and fulfillment centers are trying to find ways to differentiate and make a lasting impression. It starts with finding a supplier with great internal capabilities consisting of great systems and great people.

From the front-end interface to the back-end use of the product and everything in between, there's more than just receiving, storing, packing and shipping product. We've designed systems to ensure the little stuff makes a big impression on the end users:

  • Colorful logo packing tape and boxes
  • Gift wrap
  • Confetti package void fill
  • Glamour polybags and mailer
  • Customized pack list, stickers and placards
  • Custom front-end ordering websites
  • Scented personal thank-you letters

Can We Do It?

Many companies are asking, why don't we just bring the product in-house to pack and ship the orders ourselves, not really understanding the intricacies that are involved in making a fulfillment service operate smoothly. Turning a break room, office or storage area into a one-off fulfillment center for a short period of time usually comes at a higher price than expected, whether it's space to store the product, supplies needed, freight cost, labor, equipment or time out of your already busy schedule trying to execute the program.

We see and hear from many customers that have had the in-house approach to past programs go terribly wrong. This can lead to more than 50 percent of unbudgeted fulfillment cost and customer dissatisfaction from damaged products, late and expedited deliveries, wrong products shipped and even returns. Sticking to your core competencies and letting experienced companies handle the behind-the-scenes operations can save a lot of headaches.

Choosing the Right Partner

When it's time to choose a fulfillment partner, follow these steps and you'll be better prepared for the right decision:

Have a detailed Scope of Work (SOW): Many fulfillment companies claim to satisfy all your needs, but do they really understand your vision? With a detailed SOW you can ensure you align with a fulfillment company that understands your industry and the lasting impression that makes your company stand out.

Get recommendations, and ensure they are capable and reputable: You want your image to be portrayed correctly. Ask for their performance metrics and what quality controls or systems they have. Get customer references and do your homework. A faulty provider that lacks the capabilities can tarnish your reputation and cause long-lasting effects. Ensure they are solution-oriented and have experienced staff in all business areas to meet your needs.

Flexibility is a must: Companies that are flexible will have the biggest impact. There are usually many unknowns when it comes to a fulfillment program. Make sure you ask the "what if" questions for items that seem to change at any second, like: volume, SKU, shipping and billing address, integration, freight documentation and cost, packaging requirements, fulfillment material, carriers, returns, call centers, value-added services, and tracking and reporting.

Proactive and solution-oriented: Don't fall into a position of being told what to do. Instead find a company that will help define your SOW with you. More often than not, you might not know or understand the possibilities that exist when trying to find a fulfillment company, especially for the little things that help build your brand and reputation. Companies with experience will be proactive and most likely will have the solution and resources that you are looking for!



ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Reinhart is the director of operations at Links Unlimited, a corporate channel supplier servicing incentive, loyalty, gift-giving and promotional markets. Supplying more than 200 brands, Links Unlimited strives to surpass customers' highest expectations by being experts in the products they represent and by providing exceptional fulfillment services. For more information, see: www.linksunlimited.com.