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Steve Smith

It is practically a law of economics — the bigger the customer, the more attention they get. To protect the stream of revenue that “big fish” customers bring in, companies are willing to invest in resources like cloud manufacturing software to ensure that every interaction with these businesses is seamless. But what about smaller-value customers? They are the forgotten few.

Companies may strive to provide excellent customer service and efficient processes across the board, but it is a challenge to devote the same level of time and manpower to big-dollar spenders and mom-and-pops alike. When resources are spread thin, companies must examine the cost benefit of investing in solutions to improve their business and customer processes.

Smaller Customers Bring in Less Revenue but can be Just as Time Consuming

Many companies use Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to exchange documents like orders and invoices with their customers. Although EDI documents can be highly useful in getting everyone on the same (electronic) page, they can be time consuming to process. For example, in a typical, non-automated EDI environment, if an error occurs, documents must be corrected manually and may even require IT support.

It is common for companies to circumvent this issue for their larger customers by automating sales order processing, including EDI. There is a strong business case for employing automation that improves efficiency and transparency, not to mention the likelihood of timely payment, if it helps maintain customer relationships and protect the financial health of the organization. But, many companies hesitate to invest in automation for their smaller customers because revenue per order is less significant. That may be the case, but these smaller customers often have a higher volume of orders, and companies end up spending a significant amount of time and resources processing these documents.

When Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) manually key in orders, the total processing time slows down and is more vulnerable to errors. Orders may need to be corrected and reprocessed, a high-touch and sometimes labor-intensive process. Additionally, manual entry makes orders harder to locate, leading to excessive back-and-forth communication or even customer frustration. If a customer habitually experiences slow or incorrect order processing, they may even take their business elsewhere. Now the company has a far worse problem than processing orders that do not net much profit — they have lost that profit altogether.

Improving Efficiency With Across-the-Board Implementation of Order Processing Automation

No matter how small the company, automation is essential, as it improves efficiency and allows that company to use resources for other value-added activities. Cloud-based manufacturing order management software uses Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to reduce the number of necessary keystrokes by accurately and intelligently extracting relevant information from sales orders. McKinsey reports that companies that use RPA can experience as much as a 200 percent return on investment in the first year alone by automating repetitive tasks more efficiently and tirelessly than employees. Beyond that, companies can gain additional efficiencies through reporting tools. By their very nature, automation platforms collect data, which companies can then use to fine-tune the process and learn more about their customers’ habits and preferences.

Essentially, reporting provides real-time visibility into the entire process, thereby vastly improving insight and productivity. Whether a business has 10, 1,000 or 10,000 customers, cloud manufacturing software provides customers with greater process efficiency and productivity across every phase of customer sales order and invoice operations.

Investing in automation for smaller companies is crucial to increasing the efficiency of both businesses. Once you automate, order size and volume do not matter. The company processing the order can do so more efficiently and by requiring fewer touch points, freeing up employees to work on more productive tasks. For instance, rather than processing and correcting orders, CSRs can spend more time on proactive customer service. Document processing automation also allows companies to easily navigate growth or high-volume seasons without adding personnel.

The customer, regardless of size, also reaps significant benefits. They do not need their own automation tool in place and can submit orders through their preferred channel — EDI, fax or email. Orders are processed much more quickly and accurately, and customers can easily track their status in real time using the customer portal. The portal also includes a record of all past purchases and activities and is a useful reporting tool.

Maximizing Revenue Through Better Business Processes and Customer Service

Serving the forgotten few by implementing document process automation is an investment in greater efficiency, productivity and financial well-being. Cloud manufacturing software removes much of the burden on employees, accommodates fluctuations in order volume and moves orders through the queue more quickly, all of which reduce costs. Automation also allows companies to provide a better customer experience, instilling loyalty and possibly earning additional business. Companies that invest in improving their operations and customer satisfaction are well positioned to run a successful business and improve the bottom line.

Steve Smith is U.S. chief operating officer at Esker.   

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