Staple Yourself to an Order

Great product is vital.  Superior marketing is a given.  But if you can't reliably deliver that product you've created a demand for, you will have frustrated former customers.  Your product can be knocked off, your marketing copied, and then what do you have left?

A lot of companies deliver product only because of the heroic efforts of their employees.  Despite processes that make consistent delivery possible (or worse, no process at all), these employees manage to get the customer the product they want and need.

There's a problem with heroic effort.  It doesn't scale.  When you grow those dedicated employees can't keep doing the impossible.  Or, if those employees leave, your customer satisfaction goes with them.

If you think your job is creating great product and schmoozing customers, you're only doing part of your job.  From HBR: "A typical CEO woos clients on the golf course or at meetings devoted to high-level questions. Here's a better idea: Re-create the client's experience by following an order through your own plant."

Back in 1992, Harvard Business Review published an article by Benson P. Shapiro, V. Kasturi Rangan, and John J. Sviokla with the title I borrowed "Staple Yourself to an Order."  I suggest you order a copy of Staple Yourself to an Order

The concept is simple (the actual execution is more difficult).  Start at your fax machine and follow an order through all its various steps until it is actually out the door of your warehouse.  Watch what each person does as they enter the order into your computer, check credit, figure out what is in stock, pick the order, check it for accuracy, pack it, ship it, file the paperwork, answer customer questions about it, wait for any backordered product to arrive, get it pulled and shipped to the customer, invoices generated, payments received and collections made.

Why bother?

"In the course of the order management cycle, every time the order is handled, the customer is handled. Every time the order sits unattended, the customer sits unattended. Paradoxically, the best way to be customer oriented is to go beyond customers and products to the order"

I am amazed how many extra steps, or additional paperwork (or computerized equivalent) is generated, during a typical order's trip through a company.  Or how many potential errors are created by incorrect software setup.  Or policies that are designed to protect the company from that one customer in a thousand that might be taking advantage of the system.

As part of following this order-following more than one is useful-check what actually is happening against the official process.  What no process?  Maybe its time to document the process(es).

Ask each person what frustrates them when they are doing their part of getting this order out the door.

At one company I worked with order entry got a credit limit pop-up every line of most orders.  But credit wasn't using the credit limits.  Changing the credit limit fixed a frustration and made order entry more reliable.

At another company, a certain product line's orders had as many as 300 to 400 line items.  Most of the part numbers were 5 digit numbers, but imported parts started with a "C".  A small change to the order entry program to let users enter those part numbers with a "*" allowed the data entry people to use the keyboard's 10 key pad to enter orders, substantially improving productivity for this product line.

Look at the flow of paperwork.  Does paper go from one person to another to another to another?  Do faxes get "lost" on people's desk (easily solved by putting yellow paper in the fax machine)?  Do you print something, write on it, and then type that back into the computer system?  Is the paperwork laid out to facilitate ease of use by the downstream users?

Do you fill orders in a first in, first out basis?  Is that the best process?

"In fact, not all orders are created equal; some are simply better for the business than others. The best orders come from long-term customers who fit the company's capabilities and represent healthy profits. These customers fall into the company's "sweet spot," a convergence of great customer need, high customer value, and good fit with what the company can offer. But in most companies, no one does order selection or prioritization."

At what point during the processing of an order do you communicate with the customer?  It's a given you'll call the customer if there's a problem-you don't understand the order they faxed in, or they are on credit hold, etc.  But do you acknowledge receipt of the order?  Do you send shipping confirmation, including tracking numbers?  Order something from one of the on-line stores like TigerDirect or Amazon.com.  You'll get an immediate confirmation of your order.  You'll get a confirmation your credit card was successfully charged.  You'll get a confirmation (with a tracking number link) when the order shipped.  And you may get a "How did we do, was the product ok" follow-up a week or two later.  If any item isn't going to ship within a day or two, you usually get an estimate of when it will ship.  Keeping the customer in the loop saves customer service calls and makes for a happier customer.  Better you tell them what's happening, even if its bad news, before they have to ask then to have them call, at which time they are often already unhappy.

There's more in "Staple Yourself to an Order." by Benson P. Shapiro, V. Kasturi Rangan, and John J. Sviokla  I suggest you order a copy of Staple Yourself to an Order

So are you ready to staple yourself to an order?  It might be as important as coming up with that next great product.