Top 5 tips to optimise Customer Order Processing

By Emmanuel Olivier

Let’s get straight to the point: A company’s success begins and ends with its customers. And one of the most important components of customer satisfaction is the effectiveness and efficiency of business document processing. Today more than ever, optimising business processes within the order-to-cash cycle is central to improving overall performance and gaining a competitive edge. 

This may seem obvious, however, it’s still one of the most overlooked facets of business process improvement. In the order-to-cash process, customer order management is a key activity. An order accurately processed and within the promised time means a satisfied customer who will pay its invoice on time. 

Here are the top five practices to optimise order processing and improve customer satisfaction:

1. Simplify, track and measure

Typically orders arrive by fax, email, telephone or even EDI. With the complex reality of multi-channel customer order-taking process, there is no easy way to provide a single view of the order management process. 

For example, an inquiring customer may call to find out the status of an order, or the Financial Director may want to know how many remaining orders are still to be processed before the end of the day. Unfortunately, these questions cannot be answered when the orders are on a fax machine somewhere, buried in an email inbox or in a mail in-tray waiting to be sorted.

Every day, the lack of process workflow visibility affects customer satisfaction, restricts service productivity and, ultimately, impacts the overall performance of the company.

To improve, one must measure. To measure, one must organise. Faced with multiple channels for receiving orders, the first step to effective order taking is to consolidate all incoming documents into a single solution, thereby providing full visibility and traceability into every received order, including its real-time status and overall history in the company’s processes.

2. Don’t lose orders!

For purposes of productivity and business knowledge, customer service or sales administration departments are often organised by geographical area, product line, market or a combination of these. This is especially the case when a company operates with a shared services centre.

Considerable time can be saved by simply sending an order to the right person to process it. Routing orders from one department to another or from one floor or site to another may lead to errors, losses, delays, and a total lack of visibility and traceability.

These types of unproductive tasks often go unrecognised or ignored, even though they can be solved with relative ease. Automating customer order routing allows the right order to be sent to the right person or department without any manual intervention. 

This is accomplished using predefined criteria identified when the order is received, which frees up time to better serve customers!

“We have been able to reduce headcount and to move some Customers Service Representatives into training and quality roles.” Louise St Clare, Customer Service Manager, DuluxGroup Australia & New Zealand

3. Control risks and eliminate tasks that provide low added value

For orders that are not transmitted as data files, entering the order in the ERP system is a common — yet often troublesome — step. Who would claim that entering data into a system is a high value-added task? 

However, even the slightest error (and there are often some) can have undesired consequences. Manufacturing eight tons of tiles and shipping them across the country, only to find out that the colour is wrong, is disastrous in terms of customer service (not to mention wasted resources). It’s no better if the delivery date is off or if the address is wrong.

Automating the process makes order entry secure and prevents errors by guiding the user with automatic input, performing real-time data consistency checks, supporting access to ERP resources and integrating with the ERP to manage alerts. Teams can focus on high value-added tasks to verify the accuracy of order data or more effectively manage their customer relationships.

4. Proactively communicate with customers

An incorrect order that is entered correctly remains incorrect and will still be delivered with the wrong products or volumes. Therefore, it is essential to reinvest saved time into verifying the accuracy of the customer’s order. 

This means communicating directly with the customer to clarify the order or to adjust it so it meets the actual need.

Automating the process of handling customer orders increases a company’s ability to satisfy its customers and directly boosts sales.

5. Measure the results and continuously optimise the process

Key performance indicators – such as late orders, orders that fail to comply with time commitments, low team productivity, trouble handling unexpected volumes and recurring problems – can help identify order management issues. 

Automating the process is only the first step of improvement. Optimisation comes by measuring results, analysing them and developing and executing an ongoing action plan.

Do any of these five points sound familiar? Analyse your order management process, and you will discover a new source of productivity improvement and customer satisfaction.

Emmanuel Olivier is Chief Operating Officer at document process automation specialist Esker.