Every year, third-party logistics (3PL) warehouses make the important decision of which warehouse management system (WMS) software to use to automate and enhance their processes. Many times, the evaluation process focuses primarily on the technical capabilities of the software versus how a 3PL warehouse will find support and the customer experience throughout their experience with their WMS partner.
Before engaging with a WMS technology provider, 3PL warehouses should consider asking the following questions to find out how the provider prioritizes customer experience.
What is the WMS Implementation Schedule?
The implementation schedule provides the roadmap for onboarding new users and is a crucial step in making sure that 3PLs can effectively use the software they are paying for. One of the main reasons technology fails is not the technology itself, but users not knowing how to use it. A WMS is useless without proper training and education. Because of this, the implementation process can be critical.
The training materials used in implementation can come in many forms – user manuals, slide presentations, training videos, video conference calls with Implementation Managers, even on-site training classes. Additionally, implementation can vary in scope; sometimes just a few people need the full, formal implementation training, and other times the whole warehouse needs training.
Because of the variety of shapes implementation can take, it is important to know what style of training best suits each individual 3PL. How many people need to go through the formal implementation process? Can a select group of users go through implementation and transmit necessary information to the rest of the employees at the 3PL warehouse? How do these users learn best? These are all questions to consider when developing an implementation schedule with your WMS provider.
It is also important to know how long the implementation process usually takes. For some 3PLs it may take a matter of weeks, while for others, a few months might be needed, depending on the size of the 3PL, the number of warehouses, complexity of integrations, and how many people need training. Of course, users want to have the training wheels off as quickly as possible so they can meet the demands of fast-paced logistics work.
Though finishing implementation quickly is a priority, it is equally important to take the necessary time to train thoroughly and consistently to ensure continued success using the software. WMS providers should help guide 3PLs in completing implementation training at the right speed, tailored to each 3PL’s unique needs.
How Will Your 3PL Be Supported?
Ongoing account management refers to any sort of guidance or monitoring that occurs after implementation. Once 3PLs are trained, they need ongoing account management to make sure that the software is still meeting their expectations. It is an industry best practice to assign a Customer Success Manager (CSM) to all open accounts to act as a direct contact for the 3PL.
The CSM is a great resource for 3PLs with specific needs like custom reporting or upgrading subscriptions, but the CSM should also proactively monitor their assigned 3PLs and reach out to them as well, especially when new product features become available. Ongoing account management also comes in the form of business reviews conducted by the CSM. It is important for the CSM to know how each of their assigned 3PLs are running their businesses so they can predict what kinds of services might help them in the future.
The CSM wants to make sure every 3PL gets the most out of their software, so every 3PL should know how to engage with their CSM.
What is the WMS Support Structure?
The support structure refers to the way a WMS software provider handles technical support requests, whether via email, online chat, over the phone, through an online portal, or a mixture of outlets. As we all know, technology does not always work how it should, so knowing how to contact support – or knowing if the WMS provider even offers support services – is crucial when problems arise.
3PLs should know when the support department is open and actively working on cases. Are there 24-hour support services, or is the support department only open during business hours? Some WMS providers may offer emergency help 24 hours a day, but only operate during normal business hours for standard requests, so knowing when support is reachable is just as important as knowing how to reach them.
Being able to reach a dedicated customer support team at any time and having access to monitor the statuses of active support cases is a huge asset to any 3PL. How to get in contact with support is only half of what a 3PL should know about support -- the other half is the service level agreements for the timeframe of handling different support fixes.
Simply put, some problems are trickier than others. Some fixes can be handled over the phone, while others may need a more in-depth review from a more experienced support engineer. Still others could arise from bugs in the software that developers need to address. All these different scenarios result in different timeframes for solving the issue, and knowing these timeframes gives the 3PL peace of mind as they have realistic expectations for how long they need to wait on a fix.
What Access Will You Have to Other 3PLs?
Benchmarking against other 3PL warehouses or talking to other users of the WMS can offer valuable insight. Some WMS software providers offer tools like an online community to connect 3PLs with each other.
An online community where 3PL customers of the WMS provider can get together to share experiences, tips, and questions can be a valuable resource to many 3PLs. In most cases, the WMS provider moderates the community posts and might ask prompting questions, but the community space is meant to exist as a network-building platform for 3PLs without the influence of the WMS provider. The online community is not just an extension of the CSM or support departments, though CSMs and support department engineers may answer questions posted.
For example, the community can be a suitable place for 3PLs facing the same technical issues to team up and get guidance on workarounds from each other. It can also be a place where similar 3PLs can compare practices and share tips for how to manage their customers, prepare for peak seasons, and more with specificity, knowing that every member of the community uses the same software. Most importantly, the community is a place to promote industry best practices and create business partnerships with other 3PLs.
What Are the Outlets for WMS Product Feedback?
WMS providers can offer many ways to give feedback on their products, including surveys, in-app messages and tools, customer advisory boards, and even through channels like the CSM or online community. Because the needs of 3PLs continue to change, they need reliable ways to give feedback so that the WMS provider can continue to meet their software needs.
If a 3PL has no method to give feedback, there is no guarantee that the software will continue working for them – and thus, no guarantee that the 3PL will remain a customer of the WMS provider. As such, the WMS provider should take feedback seriously, whether that be from a survey rating a 3PL’s experience with support, or from product ideas generated by a customer advisory board or submitted online.
Feedback drives the WMS provider to continue to innovate, so having a forum for feedback goes a long way toward the longevity of the software and continued customer satisfaction.
Evaluating a WMS Partner
Ensuring that you identify both the technical capabilities, as well as the support infrastructure of a WMS partner can often mark the difference between a long-term successful relationship or a failed implementation.
To learn more about the WMS evaluation process and to get useful checklists and timelines, download the Evaluating WMS Guide.
Written by Ashley Hawkins
Ashley Hawkins has over 5 years of experience in applied mathematics, previously working as an editor and copywriter in engineering and tech. She now works as a Customer Service Representative at 3PL Central where she helps scores of 3PLs each week adopt the 3PL Central software and follow industry best practices. With experience in research and consulting on software workflows, Ashley is passionate about the future of technology and logistics.