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Customers worry about loss of control and transparency when it comes to using a 3PL. But the right warehouse management tools can give your clients the transparency they need—and give you a competitive advantage.
A 3PL should never underestimate how important trust is to its customers. After all, in handing over the responsibility for their warehousing, packing, shipping, and other fulfillment tasks, they are also giving up the control they had when doing it themselves.
Lack of control is a top reason why many companies resist moving from in-house logistics to a 3PL. Like a parent entrusting their child to a babysitter, there is worry that the dedication to the brand won’t be the same. Customers need reassurance that the 3PL will handle things the way they would.
First, a 3PL must be able to deliver what they promise in the area of fulfillment. But equally important is visibility into what is happening in the fulfillment center. Transparency allows customers access to the data and operations so they can measure their success, face challenges, and make better business decisions.
When businesses engage a 3PL, they hope to increase efficiency, lower cost, and waste and have an unbreakable supply chain. Good 3PLs do all of this for numerous customers across several different platforms. If there are doubts about efficiency, or whether a better deal could be made on shipping, for example, customers will start shopping for a new company to manage their product fulfillment. Being transparent provides proof to customers that they are truly optimizing in all possible ways.
In addition to successful operations, brand image is huge. Businesses spend a lot of time and money to create and cultivate a brand identity. They need 3PLs that will customize their operations to mimic their own personal touch in packaging, presentation, and customer service. They don’t want their brand diluted or cheapened by a third party without a stake in the game.
When a 3PL uses a WMS built for transparency, the customer can help design the protocols used for handling their items. Best of all, they can check in to make sure those protocols are being followed consistently.
Transparency and trust are essential whether the customer is a mom-and-pop that has recently scaled to the point of needing help or a huge company that has relied on 3PLs for some time. Their goals are the same: They need someone to take care of the day-to-day details of fulfilling orders, maintain the integrity and reputation of the brand, and give customers the product and experience they expect.
When a 3PL uses software that allows transparency, it gives customers a virtual “peek behind the curtain” of what is happening in the warehouse. That is not to say that there is an entirely open-door and open-book policy...but there is a balance.
3PLs should allow access to the data and KPIs that are relevant to the customer’s business while maintaining security for all. For example, with Infoplus Commerce software, there are safeguards in place so only the customer’s own information is visible. Individual roles can be defined and given options to Read, Edit, Create or Delete actions and instructions, and those permissions can be adjusted so the appropriate personnel has the right access.
Since every company’s fulfillment plan is different, transparent software allows the customer to be involved in building the procedures so picking and packing are in alignment with the brand’s requirements. It allows for total customization of processes and then provides reports so the customer can keep tabs on them. Infoplus will even include a 3PL’s customers in onboarding meetings to ensure that everyone is on the same page and has all of the information they need.
While fulfillment speed and cost savings are a priority, a successful 3PL is not going to simply toss items in a box and find the cheapest way to ship them out. There is much more to the process and a host of value-added services that good 3PLs provide.
They can give a “total brand experience” to buyers by customizing the processes in the warehouse. Kitting processes can include detailed instructions from the customer, making up a “job recipe” template.
Job recipes can be as simple or complex as needed. For example, the recipe for a set of makeup items might include a special box with slots for each cosmetic and precise instructions about where each piece fits. The boxes might then be covered in tissue paper embossed with the brand logo, or sealed with a piece of custom-printed tape printed and positioned in a specific way. Custom packing slips and thank you notes might be added.
Subscription plans and increasingly popular “unboxing” videos, especially for apparel and luxury items, have made this type of brand-specific customization an important part of the fulfillment process.
Full transparency into the process provides an audit trail for quality control. For example, after each instruction in the “job recipe” a worker might use a barcode scanner to confirm that it’s been completed. In a transparent 3PL, a customer can pinpoint problems if they arise. If incorrect or incomplete orders are going out, or if the packaging is damaged or sloppy, the data will show what happened or who is responsible.
Working with a transparent 3PL gives customers the advantage of knowing how their products are being handled. Inventory management will let them know exactly what is in stock and where. Reports about returns will alert them to potential problems with quality control, supply chain partners, or processes in the warehouse.
They can study the metrics and KPIs to gauge the efficiency with which products are being picked and packed. They can troubleshoot problems and pinpoint mistakes and inefficiencies before they cost too much time and money.
If they are wondering if they are getting the best shipping deals, they do not need to take the 3PL’s word for it but will be able to study the analytics for themselves. For example, if a carrier is fast and inexpensive, but continually breaks fragile products, transparency will allow them to make the strategic decision to pay more for the 3PL to use a shipper with a better track record.
Transparency gives 3PL customers the stats, data, and reporting in real-time. It shows how well each part of the process is working, allowing for more informed business decisions.
For the 3PL, transparency has its advantages too. The right software gives a 3PL the ability to say “yes” to any request that a customer can make—and build trust by giving them the proof they are looking for.
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