Warehouse customer service is among the top priorities for the organization and warehouse is evolving as very important entity to deliver excellent service to its customers. Organizations are realizing that it can be also be major bottleneck to achieve customer satisfaction and looking for warehouse experts to solve their problems. Unfortunately, Fact is that such Warehouse experts are not easy to find.
As scale and complexity increase in product volumes, organizations face challenge in ensuring right warehouse process, stock accuracy, efficient resources and engaged workforce to timely service customer orders which impact warehouse customer service
Sharing the 3 best Tips to improve warehouse customer service. These ways provide a brief understanding of Warehouse processes to identify the bottlenecks and resolve them.
Warehouse Customer Service
To improve warehouse customer service, three requirements need to be taken care of :
1. Robust process management
2. Reliable and Efficient Resource Management
3. Engaged Workforce Management
1. Robust Process Management
Warehouse process can be well managed with proper understanding of right processes and ensuring discipline and adherence in execution of the same. Warehouse end to end process is explained as below.
Warehouse process can be divided sequentially into 3 parts :
- Inbound Process
- Stock Management
- Outbound Process
1. Inbound Process:
Inbound process defines how goods are received in a warehouse. It begins from receiving the vehicle in the warehouse premises, storage at the appropriate location and stock updation in the warehouse system.
a. Vehicle placement at the dock:
Vehicles documents are checked for any inconsistency. If documents are found correct, then vehicle is placed on the dock for unloading. Dock leveller is used to match the height of truck with height of dock. Truck door is opened and physical condition of goods is inspected. If stock condition is found satisfactory, truck is unloaded.
b. Accurate counting of Inbound goods:
Cases are unloaded, stacked on a pallet as per the standard and moved to staging area. No of cases per pallet, loose pallets and total Pallet numbers are counted to arrive at total stock received.
c. Goods Receipt in System:
Physical Unloading sheet with batch details and documents are checked by system operator for receiving goods in system. Goods receipt entry is done in the system against the valid Purchase order shared with supplier. Stock details in the system, mentioned in documents and physically received are matched again for error reconciliation if any.
d. Accurate Put away:
Goods are moved to racks as per defined put away strategy. Put away is keeping the stocks at the designation location in the warehouse. It is ensured that stock in system is physically available in the same bin location.
2. Stock Management :
Once the stock is kept in the warehouse, regular checks and controls are required to ensure stock accuracy because there is possibility that goods are misplaced by keeping at alternate location or dispatched more than the requirement.
a. Cycle Counting:
Cycle counting is done to check there is no change in inventory due to incorrect picking or put away. SKUs are picked on random basis and checked on daily basis at quantity, batch and location level. This practice ensure discipline of stock management in the warehouse.
2. Balance Stock checks
After dispatching the stocks of particular SKUs, checking balance stock helps to reconcile the stocks on immediate basis
3. Outbound Process:
Accurate Picking and loading to improve warehouse customer service. Customers share the purchase order with the warehouse against which sales order is created. System generates pick list basis customer orders and defined logic like First Expiry First Out .
Stocks are picked from designated location and moved to staging area. Stocks are counted in staging area and loaded in the truck.
Adherence to the warehouse end to end processes require strong leadership and rigor in execution. Automating the warehousing processes truck unloading, stock putaway, picking, warehouse management system, truck loading systems and other automation solutions can go a long way in building the process consistency.
2. Reliable and Efficient Resource Management to improve warehouse customer service :
Warehouse resource long downtime can severely impact warehouse reliability and warehouse customer service. Resources are quite expensive and need to be managed efficiently to sustain the customer service. Various resources and Ideas to make resources reliable and use them efficiently in warehouse are as follows :
1. Material Handling Equipment:
a. Reach trucks and forklifts maintenance to be done as per schedule to ensure always in good working condition.
b. Adequate inventory of spares to be maintained for critical parts
c. Good and well trained drivers to be deployed.
d. Shift level output to be measured and compared against standard to improve Productivity.
e. Distance travelled by MHEs to be optimized by ensuring proper stock classification in the warehouse.
2. Warehouse space:
a. Use vertical height to the maximum extent possible
b. Use high density racks to improve capacity within same infrastructure
c. Measure storage capacity per sq feet and compare with best benchmark
d. Increase height of goods on a pallet to the extent possible without damaging the goods
a. Eliminate non value add activities
b. Streamline role basis the requirement vs basis the hierarchy
c. Merge multiple activities into one activity for example, hygiene and housekeeping to be one responsibility
One of the key for managing warehouse efficiently is that dispatches should be regular and continuous. Dock reliability, efficiency and productivity defines the output of a warehouse. Any hiccups in warehouse dispatches will lead to excess stocks in the warehouse and multiple issues like stock identification and traceability.
Docks preventive maintenance schedule to be adhered and proper corrective and preventive actions in place to avoid repeat breakdowns. Measure dock utilization basis number of trucks loaded in a day vs available time to identify the bottlenecks.
3. Engaged Workforce Management :
Warehouse team is the face who interact with the customers on daily basis. Their behaviour and approach goes a long way in building good customer relationships and deliver excellent warehouse customer service
Workforce and People Management is an integral part of warehouse operations as there are multiple vendors and stakeholders like system operators, forklift operators, supervisors, loading crew, transporters and drivers who needs to be managed. Their contributions play an important role in improving warehouse customer service
Understanding their contributions in brief can help on how they contribute in improving warehouse customer service:
1. System operator: Works on an ERP system to receive customer orders, generate pick lists and create invoices. Accurately create invoices for the customers without any errors
2.Physical Supervisor: Check the unloaded stock, supervise the loading operations and conduct regular stocks checks. Ensure accurate count of goods loaded with correct pattern to avoid damages
3. Forklift operators: Drives forklift and transfer stocks from one location to another. Usually from unloading area to storage area and storage area to loading area. Picks the right stock and keep in right location. No damage to goods during movement
4. Loading crew: Load pallets and cases inside the truck either with forklift or hand trolley. Follow the right loading pattern inside a truck
5. Drivers: Place trucks on the docks and drive away once the trucks are loaded. Ensure goods are reached timely with customers.
6. Transporters: Place trucks as per vehicle slot and ensure no in transit delays so that good reach customers timely and in safe condition.
Last but not the least is warehouse manager who leads, coordinate and manages end to end warehouse operations. He needs to be champion of warehouse customer service and his commitment and dedication for servicing the customers is most important.
These 3 area are the fundamentals for ensuring smooth warehouse operations and improving supply chain performance , warehouse customer service and productivity.
In nutshell, Warehouse customer service can be improved by ensuring right processes, improve resource reliability and building an engaged team.
Sharing a real life story of turning around warehouse operations and improving warehouse customer service
There was large sized warehouse for storing finished goods and operations were not in good situation. Dispatches were not accurate, system vs physical stock was never matching and trucks unloading used to take many days.
Four warehouse managers have changed in last one year summarized the entire story 3rd Party Warehouse owner was not even able to figure out what and where the problem was.
I got the responsibility to manage this warehouse and looked forward to the challenge. Fortunately, after some time 3PL hired a Vice President to supervise national operations and he was expert in managing warehouse operations
We took 5 actions which improved the warehouse customer service within three months
a. After stocks unloading, goods to be counted accurately in staging area and then moved to storage location. Good receipt in the system was done by operator and then signed and checked by the supervisor to ensure 100% Inbound accuracy
b. Initiated cycle count for SKUs on daily basis so that discrepancies are discovered and resolved rather than waiting for month end stock count audit
c. Dispatched goods were counted in the staging area before loading and handed over to transporter on count basis.
d. Inbound trucks were slotted and scheduled so as not many trucks arrive same day which facilitated timely unloading
e. Activity requirement and available manpower resources were mapped for end to end warehouse operations and excess manpower reallocated to bottleneck areas to improve system and process capability and output
With these actions, there was significant improvement in all the key performance metrics ensuring high dispatch accuracy, stocks and inventory match , timely trucks unloading avoiding detentions and improving overall warehouse customer service