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Back to Supply Chain Basics: Selling and Servicing Inventory

Posted by on November 16, 2016 4:18 pm

I started this series based on a paraphrase from the movie “Bull Durham.” In one scene, the coach told his players they were making the game of baseball too complicated. He said, “You throw the ball, you catch the ball and you hit the ball,” encouraging them to get back to basics.

The paraphrase I’ve applied to supply chain is “you buy the inventory, you transform the inventory and you sell and service the inventory.” In this last installment, I will concentrate on the basics of selling and servicing inventory.

Companies want their customer’s attention. Most are trying to achieve some level of customer intimacy. To do so, companies strive to keep customers satisfied after they’ve purchased products. The goal is to build on and enhance that relationship to sell more. In today’s commoditized marketplace, customers have many choices of where they can procure product. How can you set yourself apart? The answer may seem oversimplified, but it starts with how easy it is to do business with your company. How transparent can you be?

A great place to concentrate on being easy to do business with and becoming transparent is with visibility. As I’ve said earlier in this series, it all comes down to inventory visibility. In this last installment, I want to explore why visibility is crucial to selling and servicing inventory.

Inventory Visibility and Selling the Inventory: The Challenge of Information

If companies can’t see or confidently advise a customer when inventory is going to be available, it is difficult to sell. That challenge becomes greater in an omni-channel environment where customers regularly switch between shopping methods, with an increasing trend toward digital distribution channels. Regardless of where or how customers are buying, they expect information.

Customers want visibility into the following:

  • Product location
  • Product condition (new, refurbished, open box)
  • Shipping options
  • Cost
  • Date of availability through a particular buying channel

If that information isn’t available, in many cases, you open the door to competition.

The key capability to avoid losing customers is visibility and status of the inventory. If you can provide your customer this information in a quick and accurate manner, it reduces the likelihood of them searching competitors. Inventory visibility gives you an opportunity to meet and exceed their expectations. It provides you the opportunity to sell your products and your company.

After the Sale: The Challenge of Keeping Customers Satisfied

Once you’ve sold the inventory, it’s critical to customer retention to service the account with processes such as returns. While returns aren’t any company’s desire, the ability to automate and guide customers through this process as easily as possible can have a great impact on customer satisfaction.

Properly handling returns requires collecting the right information. With that information in hand, companies can track inventory status in the reverse logistics cycle. As a further benefit, companies can use the information in product design considerations to help avoid future returns. To accomplish these improvements, you need visibility.

Transforming Service to Exceed Customer Expectations

Many companies use their ability to service products as a competitive differentiator. They don’t just service their own products; they service other company’s products as well. The key capability to servicing products is visibility into the status of the inventory. With the advent of digital technology, companies are now able to track the operational parameters of the products they’ve sold or are servicing. They are able to ensure service levels (again a competitive differentiator) because they have visibility into the operation of the inventory. They are able to predict issues and can be on site before the customer recognizes a problem. Utilizing this approach, you are not just the maintenance arm. You are now able to become a trusted advisor, enhancing the relationship and allowing you to sell not just products but your company.

Equipped with inventory status and information, service technicians can bring the proper inventory to the site to maintain or repair products. I can’t stress enough that visibility in the field includes more than the operational aspects of the inventory or product sold. Just as critical are the parts required to maintain or repair the installed product. If you don’t have that visibility, it will be hard to maintain service level agreements. Again, you may open the door for competition. You need to do all you can to keep that door shut and visibility is a key enabler.

When it comes time to sending technicians, you have to ensure they have the skill set, the right parts and the information required to perform the activity. You need to take into consideration service areas, priority of the service calls, inventory and stocking pick up points if required. All of this is enabled by transparency and visibility within the company and even outside the four walls to exceed customer expectations and help to block out competitors.

Your Competitive Edge: Inventory Visibility

With proper visibility into the product sold as well as the repair parts inventory, you can maintain and exceed customer expectations—and begin to block out competition. The Digital Supply Chain Platform (DSCP)™ has prebuilt applications and integrations that provide your company the visibility and status of inventory and products. Through mobile devices or customer portal interactions, you can enable omni-channel selling processes as they gain prevalence.

Additionally, the DSCP streamlines the reverse logistics process. DSI’s mobile-first supply chain apps can track inventory locations as well as the various causes for returns. Your company can then use that information in design and continuation engineering efforts. Executives from sales through engineering need to understand why returns happen to ensure continuous improvement.

When it comes to servicing products, visibility into their use and operational performance is critical to helping maintain and exceed service level agreements. As noted before, DSI has provided the capability to tap into machines for years. Being able to use this data to be more proactive in service calls increases customer satisfaction. It can also reduce the cost and number of service calls and increase the life of products.

Companies are also able to see how their products are used and can gain valuable insight into different use cases and future improvements. The Digital Supply Chain Platform can provide you the visibility and analytic capability required to understand the performance and service level of your products.

When it comes time to sending technicians, you have to ensure they have the skill set, the right parts and the information required to perform the activity. The DSCP has prebuilt applications and integrations to ensure your technicians are routed optimally.

The Digital Supply Chain Platform will take into consideration service areas, priority of the service calls, inventory and stocking pick up points if required. Additionally, it provides technicians with an easy-to-use interface that allows them to concentrate on the job. Your technicians can work unencumbered by difficult data entry tasks regardless if they’re in a connected on disconnected environment.

The Digital Supply Chain Platform has a long history of helping companies with the basics by providing the required visibility and status of the company’s inventory. At the heart of the supply chain is inventory. Everything you do is predicated on the status of your inventory. You buy the inventory. You transform the inventory. You sell and service the inventory.

The Digital Supply Chain Platform allows you to excel in these disciplines and allows you to take control of your destiny.

Learn how other customers have embraced the Digital Supply Chain Platform.

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