A big concern of e-retail brands that outsource fulfillment is losing control.
An on-site customer service model addresses that concern by having the brand’s day-to-day contact located in the warehouse where your inventory is stored. But for economic reasons, many 3PLs favor a centralized or remote customer service model.
In this article, we’ll lay out the clear advantages of on-site customer service, how it works, how it’s helped Amware clients, and how you can put the model to work for you.
Centralized Versus On-Site Customer Service
In outsourced fulfillment services, customer service representatives, or CSRs (Amware calls them Client Success Representatives), are the primary point of contact for your questions about orders, inventory, special projects and just about any fulfillment-related issue. With on-site customer service, CSRs work in the locations from which orders are fulfilled. In a centralized model, CSRs work at a central call center or, increasingly, from a home office.
At first blush, centralized customer service seems to make sense. After all, outsourcing fulfillment services typically involves a shared services model where customers benefit from the economics of shared space, equipment, and labor. So why wouldn’t it make sense to also share the services of a central customer service pool operated in the most cost-effective and efficient way?
There are lots of reasons – starting with the control issue. A remote CSR takes your questions and requests and then relays them to faraway operations people by phone, text, or some other means. The inefficiencies and potential communication delays are frustrating and impede decision-making.
It’s just the opposite with a decentralized model. According to Leslie Barton, Vice President of Client Success at Amware Fulfillment, “If need be, an on-site CSR can throw on a vest and walk into the warehouse, right to where a customer’s inventory is stored or being picked or kitted, to get an answer.”
How On-site Customer Service Works
Amware features a decentralized customer service model for all its eCommerce fulfillment services clients. Every client is assigned a CSR at every facility where inventory is stored and order fulfillment is performed.
Four Sigmatic, a manufacturer of mushroom-based coffee and other food items, has benefitted from Amware’s decentralized model.
According to Colby Carll, Supply Chain Manager at Four Sigmatic, “With a prior fulfillment partner, we dealt with CSRs located centrally. If we had an urgent request, we often experienced delays as the CSR played phone tag with key warehouse personnel. With Amware, our dedicated rep can go out to the floor and take direct action, like prioritizing an order. The on-site customer service model has been a real difference maker for us.”
Read the entire case study of Amware’s work with Four Sigmatic here.
When On-site Customer Service Proves Decisive
There are occasions when a brand’s fulfillment team needs eyes on the product. An on-site CSR has the ability to go right to the source for answers.
“Especially in the 3PL world, the on-site customer service rep truly does become an extension of their business. They can go out on the floor and talk to supervisors or associates and look at what’s going on in person.” Leslie explains.
During the pandemic, Amware was reminded of the disadvantages of remote customer service when Amware’s CSRs were forced to work from home.
“Clients in need of an answer would get hold of a CSR, who then had to track somebody down at the facility – there was really no dedicated person to hunt down those answers.”
Amware shifted back to the on-site model when COVID protocols relaxed, but 3PLs with a centralized customer service model face these same challenges daily. To make the central CS model work, Leslie knows of one 3PL that created a liaison position to be the bridge between customer service and operations at every facility. “But this additional headcount and cost undermines the primary reason some 3PLs centralize the function – to save money,” Leslie says.
On-site Customer Service Fulfills Customers’ Need for Speed
The best-case scenario is to have CSRs who know the brand and the customer very well and can talk directly to operations people or handle a request themselves.
“Clients need immediate responses because there’s money and customer relationships at stake,” says Leslie. “For example, if an irate customer is asking our client for delivery of a late order, that client wants to know the status now, not in 4 hours. If low inventory is threatening to create a backorder situation, the client wants inventory that has just been delivered to the facility to be received ASAP so they can add it as available inventory on their eCommerce site.
“Having an on-site customer service solution enables faster action on urgent requests,” Leslie says.
Being on-site empowers CSRs to take the bull by the horns on behalf of clients. That can be as simple as answering a client request to check the label on some just-arrived products. The CSR walks out to the warehouse, takes a photo, and texts it to the client. Done.
Customers with kitting projects in the fulfillment center benefit greatly by having on-site reps who can check the setup, make sure pickers are following instructions and ensure the right product lot numbers are being used. “At Amware, our CSRs will actually sign off on these jobs. When customer service is remote, you don't have those extra eyes on the projects,” Leslie says.
Maintaining lot control is a key function in eCommerce fulfillment. Companies need an accountable representative who can check inventory to see if a product has expired or verify that a product is on hold or quarantined.
These are important issues requiring immediate answers. Delays in providing information or verification leads to frustration, or much worse when the end customer is impacted.
A Great Client Experience Leads to Great Consumer Experience
“Where’s my stuff?” is the everyday refrain of today’s online consumer. The eRetailer with the best visibility and the best and fastest answer wins. These kinds of consumer requests often land in the lap of the 3PL’s customer service team. It’s in these cases that the decentralized model shines.
Centralized customer service reps are limited by the data that’s in front of them. For more information, CSRs need to personally intervene. That’s when working with an on-site CSR can get fast and decisive results that translate into customer satisfaction for end consumers.
The value of fulfillment warehouse on-site customer service is affirmed year after year in Amware’s annual customer satisfaction surveys.
As Leslie describes, “We don’t ask for customers to comment specifically on our people, but they always do. It’s a big part of the feedback they give.
“Clients get very attached to their customer success representatives and see them as an extension of their team. There’s a trust that develops because that on-site person becomes their eyes and ears.”
Every Brand Has Control Issues – Not Every 3PL Can Satisfy Them
To cut costs, a centralized customer service model is tempting for 3PLs and the brands paying their bills. Many 3PLs adopt this model…and the result isn’t much different than when your call to your credit card company gets routed to a faraway rep who lacks the power or passion to help.
Doesn’t your brand deserve the on-site customer service treatment? Talk to the team at Amware Fulfillment about what that would look like.