We are now deep in the most wonderful time of the year, with growing numbers of consumers having visions of new electronics dancing in their heads. However, for companies up and down the electronics supply chain, the holiday season is essentially a 30- to 45-day sprint to keep up with the tsunami of orders that pour in daily. It’s a mad dash to get orders out, shipped, and under the tree in time for Christmas morning. A breakdown at any point in the supply chain can mean the loss of revenue, customers and business reputations. The holidays can be a highly profitable time in the electronics industry, but it’s never been an easy one and demand is ever rising.
The numbers back that up. In fact, 40% of consumers like to buy electronics for friends and family, second only to clothes and gift cards, which both come in at 49%, according to Deloitte. And that number is up from 2012, when only 35% bought electronics as gifts. Additionally, at 42%, electronics top the list of the gifts people want to receive. The demand is there. The question that remains is whether the electronics supply chain can keep up.
For those companies with highly manual order processing and management systems, the challenge to meet the needs of holiday shoppers is significant. The probability of errors increases as customer relations staff are forced to manually enter order information into the system, further delaying a process which is already slow and time-consuming. An error introduced into the process slows things down even more and opens up the possibility of an order being delivered late, the wrong product being sent, or a lengthy dispute resolution undertaken with a customer.
Factor in the lack of visibility into order processing, the inability to track orders as they make their way through the system, and the difficulty of appropriating the proper resources to get the job done, and you have a complex and slow environment that is not built to meet the crushing demands being put on the electronics supply chain — not only during the holidays but at all points throughout the year. Reputations are at stake. Customers who struggle to get the products they need when they need them will inevitably look elsewhere for suppliers.
The use of order processing automation software that leverages artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA) can remove many of the headaches caused by manual processes in the electronics supply chain. Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) was introduced three decades ago to help shift the process from a manual to a digital one, in part by making the document exchange between business partners a computer-to-computer event. However, EDI orders often come with costly exceptions that can slow the process and create problems that need both customer service representatives (CSRs) and the IT department to address.
AI and machine learning are increasingly making their way into order processing automation platforms and changing the way orders are entered, tracked, managed and fulfilled, creating EDI-like transactions without the challenges. They offer easy-to-use interfaces, customizable dashboards and self-service portals. Here are just a few ways the process is improved:
- CSRs no longer have to manually enter orders into the system. Instead, they can spend time working with customers on strategic goals, upselling and claims management.
- · Administrators and staff get better visibility into the order process from the moment the order is received to the time it’s delivered, ensuring that KPIs are met.
- Companies can analyze data from the orders, report the findings up the line and perform audit trails that include detailed transaction information. They can also more easily capture data regardless of the order delivery channel, whether it’s over the web, through fax or via the mail.
- Administrators can easily move resources to where they’re most needed and balance workloads to streamline the order processing system.
- AI engines within the software can learn as they go, speeding up processes and making them more accurate, efficient and predictive.
Order processing is a complex system at the best of times. Throw in the commercial crush that comes to the electronics market every holiday season, and the challenges only grow. However, the use of order processing automation can remove many of those challenges, giving companies an edge even when business is at its busiest. We know because we’ve seen it happen.
While not in the electronics industry, Moen, a global company that makes faucets and other fixtures, was able to cut its order processing time almost in half, from 4.5 minutes to 2.5 minutes, after bringing order processing automaton into their environments. Those two minutes can mean everything to a company, its suppliers and, most importantly, its customers. If order processing automation can do the same for electronics companies, imagine how much easier the holiday rush could be.