How to Target a Zero Fulfillment Error Average

In November of 2015, we had a company first – an entire week with one, single error across thousand of orders between two e-tail outlets. That means hundreds of customers in two different demographics, received exactly the color, shape, material, style and power they’d placed in their carts.

Those are the kinds of numbers we expect. That’s what we work toward in executive planning meetings, what I discuss at length with my department managers. All of the new hires we make, every change in process or procedure, every spend on infrastructure is intended to create as much efficiency as possible. When total disruptions in the flow of goods from our vendors to our customers hits zero, we are right where we need to be.

Over the years, we’ve seen a steady move toward perfection and we nearly got there. With the exception of one pair of black reading glasses that should have been tortoise, we improved both our reputation and the long-term value of our customer relationships.

It’s taken awhile to get to this point. We’ve had a lot of trial and, thankfully, not too much error, but here is a condensed list of the what we see as the absolutely vital steps in the process:

Invest in infrastructure

As soon as it’s cost effective, replace outdated systems and equipment; especially those that most directly contribute to error. In our case, last year, we invested approximately two years of warehouse budget replacing the legacy shelving with a more customized, streamlined system.

Before the change, we had maximized orders per hour and minimized both stocking and packing errors through re-training and refinement of our processes, but we had definitely passed the point of diminishing returns. The product storage and management system we had in place was a result of starting the company in our living room and then building up and out as needed.

While we were always aware of the need to rebuild our system from the ground up, the timing of such a large scale project is never clear cut. We looked for a way to optimize the process of stacking, sorting and labeling the boxes we received from our distributors, but couldn’t align a solution with the funds and enough confidence in the ROI to move forward.

Which brings us to #2.

Ask Your Team to Think Big

Every company has an amazing resource in the form of team members whose daily work makes them expert at their own process. They know what they do every day and how they do it. And sometimes that makes them better able to recommend changes that lead to significant improvements in process.

For us, the solution to our storage and shipping needs came after we asked for feedback in a way that acted as both a lighthearted team-building exercise and a chance for individual ideas to get directly in front of senior management.

We held a company-wide contest loosely based on ABC television’s Shark Tank. We formed cross-divisional teams and asked them to use personal insight and their individual skill sets to go big — to come up with ideas that maximize long-term company efficiency with the greatest potential for return on the initial investment.

One of the teams came up with the idea of investing in a new system of shelving bins that would require fairly substantial initial costs (in equipment and man hours), but that would result in decreased error and increased efficiency.The team that made the suggestion crunched the numbers and proved that not only was the idea solid, but that it made perfect sense at this point in our growth; that it could be our next big step toward increased profitability.

The most consistently worthwhile investment we’ve seen at One Click comes from spending the time to build bridges between the most fundamental operational steps and the management’s overview of company goals. It is absolutely essential to take the everyday experts — the ones who hands fill the orders, buy the merchandise, craft the messaging — understand exactly what they do and ask for their help amplifying the best parts of the process  while minimizing error across tens of thousands of orders.

Analyze and Reanalyze Your Results

You have to measure what you are trying to improve. The teams need rational goals that, if met, provide an accurate measure of improvement or sustained excellence. Our Fulfillment team, for instance, meets weekly to discuss which parts of the process are working and which need to be improved; to see where the gaps are and to make team-wide efforts to close them.

If we can single out the pain points — the places where error tends to creep into the system — the next step is to implement likely solutions then monitor them to see if they perform up to our standards.

We use a DOR board to look at the hard numbers; to see where error mitigation efforts are paying off. Team members see their numbers moving up or going down and understand fundamentally how that affects both the team around them and the company as a whole. It gives us the chance to point out inefficiencies individual team members might not have noticed as well as giving them empiric evidence why we should focus on improving some part of the process that we might not have seen.

Manage Your Team Based on Those Results

Look to see whether there are any disconnects between assigned roles and talent. If Team Member A excels at a particular task, but stumbles at another, look for ways to reassign the work in such a way that it puts that employee in more appropriate role. We have a lot of talent in Fulfillment, but some team members pack faster and with more accuracy than others; some are more efficient at processing returns; some need to be switched between tasks more frequently to keep their focus.

When there are long-term gaps, look for new hires that will specifically address those gaps. You aren’t just hiring to fill specific roles, you’re hiring to maximize the efficiency of process, a team, the company as a whole.

Encourage Cross-Departmental Support

Look to other experts in your company for help. If there are problems beyond your immediate control, look for ways that specialists in other areas might be able to help from a slightly different perspective.

When we look back at the 2015 holiday season, we are happy with the improvements that we’ve made in both our order efficiency and accuracy, but know there are greater gains to be realized. For the upcoming year, we can look to Marketing to create customer-facing content that manages the customer calendar. There may be a discount in the form of an email, an insert, or a pop-up window that moves a significant amount of orders to an earlier date so that we can level out our volume over a longer period of time. We can also work directly with our tech team to implement improvements around bulk order printing, and to find efficiency gains in our order management software.

Here at One Click, we’re looking forward to the day when that single error week is just another statistic; when it has moved from the goal to the norm. And when that happens, we’ll keep going — step by step through the refinement process — until we get down to a single error month and then, when that’s the norm, a single error year.

Angie Stocklin is Co-Founder and COO at One Click Ventures

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