Relief from labor shortages doesn’t appear to be in sight.
A recent National Association for Business Economics report reflects business economists’ low expectations in terms of recovery for the labor shortage. Just 6% of those surveyed believe the shortage will improve by year’s end. Ten percent expect it won’t improve until 2023 and beyond. And 32% simply can’t make a determination right now.
What can distributors do about it? Alleviate the strain of being short-staffed and ensure productivity continues – and even improves. Enhance internal operations and processes. And equip existing employees with advanced tools and training that empower them to do more with less.
1. Cut to the chase
Identify areas where you’re wasting time and resources and solve for that waste. This might involve changing your processes or implementing a more efficient tool.
For instance, manually entering and processing emailed sales orders can take up to half of a day for customer service reps and salespeople. This includes rekeying orders and fixing mistakes. The process is time- and cost-intensive, especially when compared to the capabilities of a sales order automation solution. It’s a needless gap in your process that you can easily close.
Improvements here will increase productivity because you’ll avoid backlogs and errors, speed up order cycle times, and give employees back that half of their day to do more for your business. Where else might you be able to close gaps at your organization to gain productivity?
2. Minimize mistakes
Errors cost time and money. Employees must spend time correcting them to ensure accuracy. And mistakes left unnoticed by the human eye are released to do their damage, which can be a difference of a few cents or an entire truckload of product. Also, mistakes that sneak by you can have a ripple effect on other areas of productivity and profit in your business.
Use your operational data to determine where errors frequently occur and why, then strategize to reduce those occurrences. It could be that mistakes happen when manually transferring data between documents and spreadsheets, in emailing multiple versions of documents back and forth, or with a handful of employees who need additional training.
If you can introduce processes, training and technology that help you achieve greater accuracy, your employees can spend less time fixing issues on the back end and you can spend fewer resources doing damage control.
3. Optimize employee time
When your employees gain time back from the processes you shift, improve or automate, they’ll need redirection. Be ready to deploy employees to value-add activities that serve specific goals for your business.
If your goal is to pivot toward improving the customer experience, have discussions with those frontline team members about what that looks like and how they can best use their newfound time to pursue that objective.
4. Capitalize on hybrid sales
Remote and virtual capabilities have proven valuable and cost-efficient during the pandemic. Many businesses plan to continue using these options in their operations even as they re-introduce in-person activities.
Taking the hybrid approach can help you stay productive, reducing the resources associated with travel, in-person meetings, commuting and hosting a full staff in-house. And technology investments, such as cloud-based integrated software, can ensure that wherever an employee may be they’re able to access the information and functionality they need to perform. That’s whether they’re a CSR, salesperson, supply chain manager or otherwise.
Not to mention a matter of significant importance: a convenient customer experience. Your customers and vendors are all likely considering this same more efficient approach, and you can protect those relationships by meeting them halfway.
5. Implement productivity-focused technology
Identify technologies that will improve productivity – and seize those opportunities. There are incredibly efficient solutions that enhance primary distributor functions, from sales order processing to packing and shipping. For instance:
- Gartner reports that robotic goods-to-person systems will experience drastic demand into 2023. Such a system can save employees up to 75% of their time, which they can redeploy to value-add activities.
- Forbes expects autonomous trucking, robotic automated storage and retrieval, and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) products to gain more traction in the coming years.
- The Internet of Things allows connectivity across operations and the supply chain, as well as data collection for insights and forecasting.
- With today’s software, traditionally manual administrative tasks can now be automated, such as the procure-to-pay process.
- Artificial Intelligence, paired with technology like IoT, can help distributors get ahead of maintenance issues with equipment to avoid downtime and remedy issues as they occur. This ensures productivity doesn’t slow or stop.
6. Connect your operations
Leverage the technologies and process improvements you’ve made to gain visibility over your entire business. With your systems integrated and deployed to the cloud, along with related technologies, such as IoT, data analytics and AI, you’ll have a real-time view of activity along the supply chain, in your warehouse and in key business areas like finance.
Having this view means you can respond to disruptions and delays as they occur, ensuring productivity remains on track. You can also optimize future productivity with more accurate forecasting driven by AI and machine learning. And with the cloud, you have access from anywhere.
7. Go one step further
Data analytics, combined with IoT, AI and machine learning, is your means to mine your business for further opportunities to improve productivity. Businesses, particularly distribution companies, have a lot of data at their disposal. And implementing these advanced technologies centralizes that data, making it easier to draw insights from and more actionable. With it, you can really drill down into problem areas and find ways to increase productivity at your organization. And you can more accurately predict and respond to demand as it changes.
Judd Marcello, EVP & CMO at Conexiom. He has more than 25 years of B2C and B2B marketing leadership experience throughout the United Kingdom, Americas, Australian and European markets. Reach him at conexiom.com.