Accessibility to information has become standard in our interconnected world. This is true of the relationship between business and customer. As technology is increasingly leveraged by more and more businesses, B2B customers are seeking more visibility to important information to facilitate their relationship with their providers. This is equally true within the 3PL warehousing industry.
By providing customers with solutions that give them access to their inventory information as well as basic management tools, you can create a competitive edge that helps acquire new business and retains customers.
Incorporating a customer portal into your warehousing strategy can meet these needs, and in fact become a serious time saver for you and your team. Let’s discuss how.
3PL customers want to be able to do four primary things; view and manage their inventory, place orders, communicate with your business, and get feedback on the management of their inventory. ‘But can’t all these things be done without a customer portal?', you ask. And the simple answer is yes. Yet this puts greater reliance and dependence on customer service representatives, both for the business and customers.
A customer portal on the other hand allows the customer to be able to manage certain aspects of their inventory without having to necessarily interact with anyone. So, rather than having to call a customer representative to place and schedule an order, the portal can give them access to do so. Whereas previously they might need to call a service desk to make these types of transactions now you reduce, if not eliminate, this interaction. This streamlines the process and frees up both time for your customer and your team.
Your customer portal can also be a conduit for tracking and communicating with your customers. Without a customer portal, relaying customer inventory information is most likely done entirely through email. This process can be cumbersome and time consuming. A business would tend to have to first gather the information and then send it out. Multiply this by the number of customers that a business has, and it can be no small task to organize it all. Furthermore, as soon as you send the information out, it's already outdated. Instead, a customer portal automatically receives the information from your WMS and makes it available to your customer at any time. On top of this because the customer portal is tied to your WMS the information is always the most up to date, giving your customer the most current information available.
A customer portal provides the opportunity to give functionality and features that add value to your service. For example, a customer portal can be configured to allow basic filtering and reporting. Whereas a customer in the past may have had to call or email a service representative to have a report run on their inventory, now the customer has the power to do so themselves. This helps them in running their own business and increases their overall experience with yours.
Of course, you want to make sure that your customer portal makes your life, and your customers easier. So, what are some considerations you should think about when looking at implementing a customer portal for your business?
First and foremost, is ease of use. It can’t be stated enough, if the process to login, find information, and the rest of the user experience is difficult then customer will simply not use it. This devalues the service and doesn’t add value for the business or your customer. Even small things like layout and ease of navigation can have a big impact, even if it goes unnoticed by the end user.
Easy of course doesn’t mean less functionality though. So, when evaluating a platform look for features that your customers will appreciate and use. Look for a platform that lets your customer run basic inventory reports and provides filters so they can analyze their inventory in different ways. The platform should also be able to help your customers with their business needs. Thus order, shipment, and receipt creation functionality tied to your WMS would be useful features to look for. Finally, communication features like order and shipment status, updates, document uploading, and in portal messaging/emailing are especially helpful. These consolidate the communications in one location and make the experience smoother rather than having to rummage through an entire inbox or email threads to locate important information.
Finally look for security features. The goal of a customer portal is to share the information that is useful to your customers but not all the information or data that your WMS has. So, it’s important to look for a portal platform that lets you set access permissions and segregates information so that customers can’t view each other’s inventory details based on set criteria. This is typically known as roles-based security, so look for a platform that allows this type of functionality and control where your business can manage these roles. This will avoid any embarrassing situations and promote trust.
As we can see having a customer portal for your warehouse can go a long way in supporting your customers and business. It reduces the workload and dependance on your service representatives and makes the interactions between your business and customers more fluid. It provides your customers with up to date information, with immediate access, and functionality which will add value and enhance customer satisfaction.
If you would like a WMS like Akatia’s WAM that supports your customers with a customer portal, get in contact with us by clicking the link below.