When it comes to reliability, availability and consumer trust, platforms like Amazon and Walmart.com have raised the bar. Buyers go back to the same sellers again and again because these sellers match their competitive pricing with consistent and uninterrupted service. Their delivery services are regarded by buyers as close to perfect. They fully trust them to deliver what they want, when they want it.
The principle that reliability and trust drives customer retention translates directly from a B2C context into the B2B world — but with a few twists. For wholesale distributors, providing superior customer service is critical to mitigating churn. However, at present, keeping customer standards high is a bigger challenge than ever before. The IMF predicts that “for the first time since the Great Depression, both advanced and emerging market economies will be in recession in 2020.” The World Bank is forecasting that this recession “will be the deepest since 1945-46, and more than twice as deep as the recession associated with the 2007-09 global financial crisis.” These are conditions under which it is all too easy to let customer service standards slip.
How can businesses show their customers that they are reliable and trustworthy, even in disrupted times? By providing market-leading customer service. Empowering the customer service workforce to spend more time working with customers on their real problems makes an immense difference when it comes to client retention.
Unfortunately, all too often, a company’s CSRs (customer service representatives) spend hours of their day on repetitive, manual processes that don’t drive customer retention. When companies leverage automation to take these dated processes out of the hands of CSRs, these team members can dedicate themselves to high-value customer service — building business resiliency and minimizing churn.
Customer Service Experiencing Unprecedented Disruptions
As most savvy leaders would admit, even in normal times, CSRs typically spend far too much time on non-value-add activities — activities that distract them from the need to over-deliver on customer value. Their workday is taken up with a host of various swivel chair tasks, and they don’t dedicate enough of their day to in-depth customer service. Following the rapid transition to remote work, this is truer than ever. Many CSRs are lacking their usual tools, and so are even less productive than normal.
One of the non-value-add activities that most severely distracts CSRs from real customer service is manual order processing. Most CSRs spend around a third of their day manually converting purchase orders into sales orders. In 2019, half of all U.S. manufacturing and distribution sales were processed this way — a total of $8.4 trillion in B2B sales.
This manual processing method is prone to error. Purchase-order backlogs sit idle overnight or cost overtime to process. The unnecessary cost is often as high as $26 per order. And this is the burden of manual order processing in a pre-COVID era. Now, during the current disruptions, a process like this is exposed as even more dated and clunky.
Automation: Giving CSRs the Time to Delight Customers
The way to give CSRs the time they need to focus on customer retention is to automate processes like order processing.
Using a modern SaaS platform, sales order processing can be fully automated. A company can automatically convert emailed purchase orders into sales orders in the ERP system with 100% accuracy. No CSR has to intervene. Order processing is sped up from hours to seconds. Onboarding this technology can be done in less than 30 days.
When this automation takes effect, CSRs can win back a third of their entire day. Consider what multiple hours regained in every workday translates to in terms of customer service. More high-quality conversations; more expert troubleshooting; more upselling and cross-selling. 2020 has been a year of disruption and delays. Any company that can exceed customer expectations, and return to normality quicker than the competition, can seriously set themselves apart.
Furthermore, in the longer term, automating sales order processing creates lasting business resiliency. Manual order entry is vulnerable to the changing winds of the wider economy. Automated order entry isn’t. If you continue to process orders manually, then when the next crisis hits, you will once again struggle to show customers that you are reliable and trustworthy. But if you automate this process, you make a whole section of your enterprise impervious to economic turbulence.
Customer Retention in Disrupted Times
Customer relationships are the backbone of wholesale distribution. Right now, when many companies are scrambling, keeping standards high can build loyalty — and be a market differentiator. Customer service of the kind facilitated by sales order automation is now a competitive edge. People expect order disruptions, but when you automate manual processes and free up CSRs:
- They can be readily available to speak with customers about orders or issues.
- They can proactively follow up, troubleshoot, and be extra attentive.
- They will ensure prompt order delivery creates customer delight and trust.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown that companies need to cut inefficiencies if they want to continue satisfying customers A digital transformation project like sales order automation is a high-impact, high-ROI initiative that quickly empowers enterprises to let their CSRs do what they are best at: serve customers.
When customers see you as reliable and trustworthy, they aren’t tempted to look elsewhere. By trading dated, traditional processes for modern processes, companies gain resilience and keep their customers happy — now and into the future.
Ray Grady is CEO of Conexiom, which provides a range of cloud-based solutions for a customer base that includes hundreds of manufacturers and distributors.