Omni-channel commerce: How to provide seamless customer fulfillment


lightwellomnichannel-1Customer fulfillment is like walking a tightrope. There's little margin for error, and even that is shrinking as omni-channel commerce becomes the dominant mode for shopping. With limitless stores and goods at their disposal at the click of the button, customers are more ready than ever to leave their usual brands behind to try something new. Marketing and sales professionals are seeing an increased need to shift strategies to more proactive consumer reward programs, knowing that they need to anticipate purchasing decisions and brand attachment rather than relying on a base of long-loyal clients. It's a shift in power, and it puts more pressure on organizations to get every detail of the customer fulfillment process correct.

Of course, improving quality and integrating every aspect of the customer fulfillment chain is complicated by the need for companies to become significantly more cost-efficient. Every stage, stakeholder and touchpoint of the omni-channel commerce process must work in unison to ensure that customers can browse, make purchases and receive products in their own preferential ways. As Multichannel Merchant contributor Ed Romaine recently pointed out, there are a variety of order management and customer engagement issues that retailers must take into account, including:

  • Merging online- and physical store-based shipping practices to improve localized product delivery while reducing the costs associated with goods in transit, as well as allowing customers flexibility with home delivery or in-store pickup, quickly and with no hidden costs.
  • Improving inventory management processes so that consumers, in-store salespeople, customer service representatives and online shopping portals all have an accurate, real-time item availability and cut down on "out of stock" orders.
  • Enhancing marketing and sales techniques, such as flash sales, online cross- and up-selling, rewards campaigns and customer profiles, to increase the value add experienced by both the company and its consumers.

However, if various supply chains and other stakeholders aren't properly integrated, organizations could be applying old ways of doing things to omni-channel challenges. This could lead to lackluster customer fulfillment performance, such as incorrect inventory availability, poorly plotted routing procedures, low visibility into the consumer experience and poorly targeted sales techniques. All of these problems can alienate customers and thrust unanticipated costs onto enterprises, limiting them in both short- and long-term development.

Alleviating pressure points in the customer fulfillment process
In the omni-channel commerce ecosystem, every instance in which one production or sales environment overlaps with another causes a potential pressure point to form. Cracks in the chain caused by these pressure points are highly visible to customers - problems in pricing, applied discounts, item availability, incorrect shipping and a lack of real-time insight into product delivery all cause problems that can multiply. Businesses need solutions that can take better care of their customers at a reduced cost to their own bottom lines. 

As Business 2 Community contributor John Borillo recently pointed out, the logistics of taking care of customers aren't the sole responsibility of front-line sales and call center professionals - companies increasingly need to respond to (and even anticipate) consumer needs "from the back office." 

What does this mean? It means that business leaders must improve supply chain management practices in line with the expectations of today's consumer. Enterprises need to streamline he connection between back-end inventory and front-end Web portals to confirm customers' orders immediately. They must streamline shipping procedures so that next-day in-store pickup, flexible service delivery and mobile payments are a viable reality. They also have to provide the same level of customer experience in all facets of the customer chain - any extra hoops to jump through must be eliminated for customers, and any lingering questions need to have readily accessible answers.

Getting ahead - and staying there
Retailers will have to traverse the tightrope for the foreseeable future. To eliminate the kinds of pressure points described above and implement a truly customer fulfillment-oriented omni-channel commerce experience, companies need to first invest in themselves. With a solution such as the IBM Sterling Order Management System, enterprises can leverage a centralized software platform that provides critical inventory and order information to all stakeholders. This helps store personnel and contact center staff answer customer questions, Web portals make automated decisions based on accurate data and companies develop a fluid delivery and returns system that leaves customers feeling satisfied and returning with their business. 

Learn more about Lightwell's omni-channel commerce solutions in our video below, and follow the conversation on Twitter  with the hashtag #Omnichannel:

If you want more in-depth insights into omnichannel retailing, check out our brand new white paper with FitForCommerce: White Paper - Surviving Omnichannel Order Complexities