Traditional order management practices in the wholesale distribution industry can be costly, inefficient and prone to errors. Artificial intelligence-driven automation can help to streamline and perfect the order management process, said Nick Carpenter, business development manager for Esker, and Jack Jurkowski, chief information officer for EBP Supply Solutions, in a recent MDM webcast.
The Milford, Conn.-based wholesale distributor of foodservice and cleaning products increased its percentage of digital orders from 40% to 50% by implementing a solution from Esker. About 30% of EBP’s orders come via email. Some of those email orders arrive in a consistent format, allowing Esker’s software to automatically feed them into EBP’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.
Liz Capellan, customer service manager at EBP, said, “It was a game-changer. It’s allowing customer service teams to use their skills and expertise to assist customers and find the best solutions for their specific business needs. We could free up time for our customer service. That was critical for us.”
Carpenter said, “What we are trying to do is eliminate this busy work. We are all about freeing up customer service teams to do more of the deep work and the social work, things that bring them value in their day-to-day, instead of head-down order entry. You are lowering that cost to serve by eliminating a lot of that manual work to accept orders.”
Meeting Different Needs
The automation also improved the accuracy of order processing for EBP this year, Jurkowski said, avoiding costly errors.
Some customers like to call in orders and chat with a familiar customer service representative, while others prefer a simple, easy digital transaction. It’s hard for distributors to meet all of those different needs equally well, Carpenter added.
“When we look at the threats companies are facing, the big one is changing customer buying preferences,” Carpenter said. “We are seeing people move to a lot more digital world, wanting that self-service option on a portal, and others are saying, ‘No, we are so sick of self-service. We want the human touch.’ It can go both ways. It’s not just a move to the digital world. What it comes down to is identifying what is your competitive advantage, and often it is your customer experience.”
Artificial intelligence technology can provide new ways to meet this variety of customer needs and expectations in order to make companies more competitive in a rapidly changing industry.
How can a distributor know if they need to implement automation in their ordering process? Going paperless is a great place to start for most companies. Standardize current processes before investing in new technology, Carpenter said.