Let's face it, most companies that sell products to consumers or other businesses online view the fulfillment process as a necessary evil.
Storing products, picking items and shipping packages to customers is a rather mundane process. While the consensus is that fulfillment is important, some companies don't put much thought into it, outside of ensuring that orders are shipped on time and correctly.
Unfortunately, if you take this traditional viewpoint, you can miss out on a tremendous opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition.
After all, shipping orders to customers is another opportunity to interact and engage with customers, further entrenching the relationship, increasing the chances of repeat sales, and bettering the likelihood of obtaining the highly coveted referral from happy customers.
Look at fulfillment differently
To turn fulfillment from a process into a critical step in the customer experience, the first step is to look at the entire function from a different angle.
Each point of contact allows you to either separate yourself from the pack or get lost in the abyss of being average
Of course, order execution is a baseline minimum—orders must be shipped on time and error free. When this doesn't happen, you should take swift action to make the situation right with your customers and win back their confidence.
But to better understand just how much of an opportunity the fulfillment process brings, take a quick look at all of the potential points of contact that it represents with your customer.
First, the customer places an order online. Second, he or she receives some sort of shipping correspondence outlining the status of his or her shipment. Third, the customer receives the product itself. And fourth, the opportunity exists to follow up with your buyer post sale.
Each of these points of contact gives your company the distinct privilege to either separate yourself from the pack or get lost in the abyss of being average.
The common approach
Most frequently, companies perform the bare minimum at each point of the fulfillment process.
They send a confirmation email that verifies the order. They usually follow up with an email that shows tracking information. They send the product in a bland carton with a packing slip. And oftentimes, they don't follow up after the product has been received. This is what the customer has come to expect.
If your company isn't performing all of these steps, then you may not be meeting your customers' expectations. If your company is performing these steps, then you may be meeting your customers' expectations, but you probably won't be remembered for anything significant outside of the product itself.
But if you can find ways to be personal and make unique each of the above steps, you might just turn a customer into an advocate and raving fan.
Add a thank you note, insert a discount coupon, or add another form of correspondence that makes the experience memorable
Stand out with creativity
So how do companies separate themselves from the pack when it comes to fulfillment?
Add a small dose of creativity and magic can happen! First, think of creative ways to make the ordering process different. One great example of this is how Dominos constructed its Web store for ordering pizza.
Ordering a pizza has become an experience by walking a customer through the ordering, baking, quality check process and literal delivery of the pizza.
Customers can view this process online and see exactly where the pizza is, moment by moment. This is but one example, and the main thought is to use a little creativity to spice up the mundane.
Make packages shine
Second, use some thought when it comes to packaging. Keeping costs down is certainly important when it comes to packaging. But don't let costs stop your company from taking advantage of this critical step.
Companies can use custom packaging to help them stand out. Add a thank you note to express appreciation, insert a discount coupon for future purchases or referrals, or add another form of correspondence within the package that makes the experience memorable.
Finally, don't make the mistake many companies make when it comes to following up with customers. At the very least, take the time to ask your customer if his or her experience was pleasant. While you may not get feedback from everyone, the small percentage of people who value this additional touch will turn into repeat customers and advocates. And this process can easily be automated with email software.