As we emerge from COVID-19, third-party logistics (3PL) warehouses face even more complex fulfillment needs for existing and potential clients. Ecommerce consumer demands for product delivered have moved to expect next day/2-day delivery as default. 3PL warehouses are scrambling to update technology and find reliable labor.

All these changes are driving up the cost of doing business, and the need to pass those increases on to clients is becoming more urgent or these costs will eat at your bottom line. And of course, customers frequently balk at any hinted rate increase…many even threaten to take their business somewhere else.

Despite the rising costs and increased complexity, 3PL warehouses still want and need to grow. Here are a few ways your 3PL warehouse(s) can stand out and show additional value.

Keep It Clean and Organized

Customer visits are back. Dark, dingy, disorganized warehouses will reflect poorly on how you will manage your customer’s products.

Clean it up & keep it that way – Those “we’ll take care of it later” little piles of clutter grow quickly, spread, and multiply. Stay on top of the messes by walking around weekly and identifying eye sores with your team and make sure problems get handled appropriately. Make sure the product stored in warehouse racks looks well-kept without trash hanging off the pallets. Especially look for pallets that look like they may be sagging or breaking and get them replaced as product spills are costly on multiple levels.

Brighten it up – Advancements available in lighting systems will not only brighten your warehouse, but can also reduce energy costs. Utilizing white paint will also help better bounce lighting around your warehouse and make for a cleaner and easier to work in environment. Check with your local government and utilities for tax rebates or partnering opportunities to share the cost.

Identify everything – Everywhere you store product should have a clearly defined human readable and barcoded location that can be referenced in your warehouse management system (WMS) to help more efficiently locate product and allocate orders. Use of generic locations names like floor need to be broken apart into smaller sections that are easy to reference when seeking product.

Focus On the Relationship

Strong relationships will often make the difference when a decision is being made. Even if you do lose a customer initially, that strong relationship will often bring them back.

Keep personal contact at the forefront whenever possible. Encourage your staff to pick up the phone and make the calls that will keep your customer feeling like you are part of their team.

Follow-up phone conversations with an email recap to ensure proper documentation and follow-ups.

Management and Sales teams should perform regular temperature checks and business reviews with clients to stay on top of how customers perceive your 3PL warehouse.

Leverage your WMS to free up your customer service team by:

  • Utilizing EDI for Order transactions & possibly receipts.
  • Leveraging the online customer portal in your WMS so clients can self-serve if desired. A little training in this area can go a long way. Check with your WMS provider to see if this feature is already included with your WMS and seek training to understand how this often underutilized piece of technology can help extend how your system and customer service groups can work better for your clients.
  • Removing stored paper documents by scanning and attaching all transactional documents to the actual inbound or outbound shipment they belong to. Not only will uploading documents to your WMS you make them available through the customer portal, but it will enable you to utilize automatic notifications to rapidly inform your customer of:
    • Inbound receipt notifications with scanned copies of packing documents showing any needed markings.
    • Outbound order details including copies of a signed Bill Of Lading.
    • Pictures of damages or as proof of proper load out.

Drive Towards Transacting Live!

The amount of time it takes to make product available for allocation to orders is key to clients as they seek to fulfill growing consumer expectations around delivering product faster. Outside of the yet to be fulfilled promised drone delivery armies, our reality is that many opportunities exist to optimize receipt, order fulfilment, packaging, and label production when properly employed in your warehouse management system.

Electronic Document Interchange (EDI) is a way of moving orders and inbound transactional information between a 3PL warehouse and customers digitally. There are many methods of delivering and formatting this information, consult an expert to help analyze business needs before deployment of any electronic exchange process.

Inbound receipts:
  • EDI - Incoming product should be processed against an EDI or application programming interface (API) delivered electronic receipt notification. Receipt against advanced shipping notification (RAASN) upon arrival utilizing handheld mobile scanning units running the latest version of your WMS. Using this process will allow your warehouse receiving team to accurately record details of the items directly into your system as product is processed.
  • Use Locations to store your product. This cannot be emphasized enough…a successful receiving process requires well defined locations. Receiving is arguably the most important part of warehousing. If you receive well and properly record product to locations, everything else will flow more easily.
  • Close Inbounds via your handheld - Whether you receive to staging locations or receive and directly locate, consider closing the inbound receipt via your mobile unit rather than waiting for paper documents to find their way back to the a data entry person. The time between an inbound being tallied and the receipt being confirmed / closed in your system can be dramatically reduced if worked properly via mobile scanning devices.

**Tip - Enable EDI or automatic e-mail notifications of receipt to further impress your customers with how quickly their product has been made available for orders.

Moves and Adjustments:
  • To drive greater accuracy, all product movement must be recorded in the WMS as it occurs. And, consider using a system-based cycle counting solution to help ensure accuracy.
    • Automatically place product on hold using date-based rules that evaluate product age as it nears expiration. You can also setup an automated notification advising customers of aging product so they can better direct cutoffs.
    • Make sure any needed corrections to inventory levels is recorded quickly and accurately with in the WMS.

**Tip – Enabling EDI, automatically emailing stock status, or notification of change options will help keep your customer up to date when adjustment occurs. Nightly or weekly inventory status updates automated from the WMS can help customers create an automated reconciliation process that more quickly exposes discrepancies between their system and yours.

Orders:
  • EDI creates a quick order fulfillment process. Electronically delivered orders contain useful information such as an earliest ship date, address, shipping information, load out directions, and details about items that should be added to the order. Utilizing EDI will drastically reduce hours of manual entry and drive greater accuracy in any order process.
  • Use Automatic allocation rules such as FIFO (First In First Out) or FEFO (First Expired First Out) to stay on top of your customers product rotation.
  • Batch Orders – Use batching to pick product for similar orders at the same time.
  • Pick to Bin – Use a mobile pick to bin solution to optimize order processing when multiple SKUs are involved. Pick to Bin also facilitates a more efficient pack process when employed properly.
  • Certify Packing – Use packing software to ensure each item is packed and package details are captured within your WMS for UCC-128 label production and accurate EDI advance ship notices to the next destination in the supply chain.
  • Close orders as near to ship time as possible. This helps ensure product levels are accurate at the end of the day. This can be key in communicating accurate stock levels to your customer and will help improve order accuracy. Waiting until the next morning may seem convenient, but often leads to miscommunications of what’s actually available.

**Tip – Enabling automatic notifications at ship will communicate important details like tracking numbers to your customer or even to the recipient. Helping your customer communicate information even faster to their customer, making you a rock star!

**Tip – using a properly configured mobile handheld unit can become the certification for many of your processes. Enhancing and sometimes replacing human double checks in this manner will help minimize errors.

For more information on how to impress customers and prepare for higher volume shipping times, download the Peak Season Playbook.

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