By Steve Smith, U.S. Chief Operating Officer at Esker
As a customer service (CS) manager in the manufacturing field, you know of the efficiencies that sales order processing automation can bring to your departmental operations. But moving from manual to automated processes requires a fundamental change in company best practices that executives may not be eager to take. To optimize your chances of getting c-suite buy-in on implementing an automated order processing system, you need to build a solid argument, backed up by data, that speaks the executive language.
The challenge may not be as formidable as you think. Today’s business executives understand that they must continually streamline operations in order to compete in a fast-paced and ever-evolving business landscape. They just need a sensible demonstration of how automation can positively impact supply chain execution, growth management, regulatory compliance and customer satisfaction. In other words, you need to convince the c-suite that investing in modernizing order processing is of benefit to the entire organization, not just your individual department.
Lay the Groundwork
Before you dive in to building your business case, take some time to build a strong foundation for a persuasive argument.
1. Your c-suite is goal-oriented. You should be, too.
Clearly define your overall objectives to ensure you don’t stray off course. What phase of order management and fulfillment do you wish to address first? Will you argue for an on-premises solution managed by your IT department or an on-demand, cloud-based solution? The more specific you are in defining your goals, the more targeted your business case, and the greater your chances for success.
2. You can’t have too much supporting data.
Data-driven. Metrics-based. Actionable insights. Buzzwords like these are the lifeblood of the c-suite. Make sure you’ve done your homework and you’re coming to your executive team with more than just a general wish list. Conduct a detailed analysis of your current order processing costs, and then ask prospective automation providers to tell you exactly how much they project their solutions will help reduce them. And remember, executives are looking at the whole enchilada, not just the efficiency of the CS department. How will automation help the business as a whole?
For example, the link between supply chain success and economic profit may not be immediately apparent to members of the c-suite who dismiss order management as “just filling orders.” But you can bet they’ll understand the importance of customer satisfaction. According to 2014 worldwide report by The Service Council, 60 percent of organizations surveyed anticipate that customer service will be the top source of competitive differentiation in the next three years.
3. Be a team player.
Since executives will be looking at how order processing automation will affect every area of the business, optimize your chances for success by gaining the support of other stakeholders. Supply chain managers, sales directors and IT managers are sure to have opinions and departmental concerns of their own, and the last thing you want is for a lack of consideration for other job functions to sabotage your efforts before they ever get off the ground. Forestall any objections on behalf of other lines of business (LOBs) by consulting with them in the beginning stages. If you’re all united behind one cause, your combined voices will stand a much better chance of being heard in the c-suite.
Choose Strategic Arguments
The challenge before you is to convince your executive team that traditional methods of order management are associated with higher costs, reduced accuracy and longer processing times. The thesis of your argument is that order management has a direct correlation to maximizing resources and driving improvement in a complex supply chain with ever more demanding customer expectations. Make sure your strategy stays focused on the things your c-suite cares about the most.
1. Profitability and the bottom line.
The c-suite’s ultimate goal is to increase company profitability, so it’s critical that you demonstrate how to improve customer service. For example, Forrester tells us that the revenue impact from increasing a customer experience from below-average to above-average can translate to over $80 million in additional annual revenue. Figures like that should make executives sit up and pay attention.
If you can show them that automating order process management will reduce costs associated with the order processing errors, allow operations to handle increasing volumes of order without adding new staff, and free up CSRs to focus on customer satisfaction and upselling, you’ll be hitting the c-suite’s sweet spot.
2. New levels of visibility and analytics.
Executives realize that the amount of information and the complicated nature of modern work streams make visibility and collaboration vital considerations. According to the Aberdeen Group, “improving internal cross-departmental visibility” and “streamlining processes for easier monitoring and enhanced usability” are the top two strategic actions companies believe can make complex supply chains more manageable.
Automated order processing solutions provide the capability for managers and executives to set and track detailed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that relate to their specific business concerns. These technologies allow for customizable dashboards that increase transparency in easy-to-use interfaces that can result in reports that reveal actionable insights. And in today’s ever more complicated world of privacy concerns and regulations, automation offers a complete audit trail to aid in compliance efforts.
3. Ease the burden on IT.
Executive management might make the final call, but you can be sure they won’t approve implementing an automation system that doesn’t show a clear ROI for today’s overburdened IT staff. Not many IT professionals still need to be sold on the cloud or benefits of Software as a Service (SaaS) anymore, but it’s good to reiterate for the c-suite that cloud-based automation provides easy set up, automatic upgrades and backups and a pay-as-you-go model that grabs the brass ring of IT goals: scalability.
In addition, automation can relieve a lot of the pressure that EDI exceptions put on IT resources. Information from EDI orders is automatically captured and populated into a human readable version, reducing the errors associated with manual entry. The system automatically identifies and flags any discrepancies, which helps CSRs know where to focus their efforts. An order processing solution can fill the EDI automation gap and increase the percentage of orders processed via EDI without altering existing business procedures or IT infrastructures.
Tie Departmental Success to Company Success, and You’re off to the Races
Where there are opportunities for improvement in the CS department, there’s usually a corresponding opportunity for the company as a whole. When close to three-quarters of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service, it’s clear that optimizing CS is beneficial for the entire organization.
Developing a thoughtful, strategic business case that incorporates key stakeholders and is backed up by hard metrics will poise CS managers for success when petitioning the c-suite on order processing automation. What’s good for customers is good for revenue – and that’s something no executive will argue with.