Question: As companies get bigger, how can management teams continue to stay in contact with what’s happening on the ground? How can management find out what it really needs to know without having to go through the hundreds of reports and millions of data elements routinely generated by businesses?
Answer: One concept that can help meet this challenge is a corporate dashboard. Imagine a series of dials in the corporate cockpit that reflect key indicators in customer service, sales tracking, and profitability. When tightly structured, these dials can give management an accurate and timely picture of the business—a carefully calibrated corporate spot check.
You can check out a corporate dashboard pictorially representing several such dials (www.fcbco.com/dashboard.htm). Which dials you want to include or exclude from your own dashboard will depend on management’s specific hot buttons, whether data are available from multiple channels, and the ability of your systems to report in detail at all levels of management.
Here are some dials we see in dashboards or weekly reporting:
- Inventory control indicators–initial customer order fill rates compared with item fill rates for the year; summaries of cost recovery and margin loss by liquidation media; summary of initial coverage of products/SKUs as new catalogs mail
- Customer contact center indicators–call and order activity by channel; call-to-order ratio; summary of inquiries/complaints; service indicators such as time to answer and call abandonment rate
- Back-end fulfillment process data–inbound receipts and receipts requiring buyer or vendor attention; aging of customer backorders; pick/pack error statistics; order and return turnaround times; packages shipped
- Finance data–sales actual to plan; summarized cash flow; days to refund/credit customers
- From a marketing perspective for current active catalogs–demand dollars to date; revenue dollars per catalog for house file and prospect lists separately and in total; average order in units and dollars; order forecast by week
- From Internet data–total sales generated; unique visitors; total new customers; shopping -art abandonment rate; inventory out of stock; sales per marketing effort (organic search, paid search, e-mail, shopping portals, banner ads, affiliate marketing)
- From a merchandising perspective–category projections; top 20 sellers and bottom 20 sellers; cancellation and return rates in total; reasons for return products.
Keep in mind that weekly reporting differs from monthly reporting, which includes more formal analysis points, such as profit-and-loss statements or inventory turnover.
No matter what approach you take to develop these dashboard dials, detailed departmental reporting is essential to providing key performance metrics at an executive level and to being able to break down more-detailed statistics when necessary. We recommend implementing departmental reporting of operational statistics throughout the company. Managers of the marketing, merchandising, contact center, fulfillment center, and finance departments should be responsible for maintaining their own departmental reports. Departments should also be responsible for data integrity, timeliness, and accuracy, as well as for extracting and reporting the most important daily, weekly, and monthly metrics.
Besides giving top management a way to take the pulse of the business quickly and efficiently, establishing this kind of reporting will push each department to improve its analysis and internal reporting of efficiency, costs, and customer service. Benchmarking internally against yourself season to season and year to year will help your organization to improve internally.
If you’re not already reporting key performance benchmarks, start out small. Reduce reporting to the essentials, and then build on them. Don’t get overwhelmed with how many things you could report. Be cognizant of data integrity, timeliness, and consistency. If you aren’t, you will not be able to maintain the process.
External benchmarking also plays an important role in the development of these concepts. Set realistic benchmarks for your own business (internal and external) by exchanging benchmarks and best practices with other businesses in your industry or through trade organizations. While individual businesses may vary dramatically, there are certain foundational benchmarks and best practices that are always important.
Curt Barry is president of Richmond, VA-based F. Curtis Barry & Co., a consultancy specialized in contact centers, fulfillment, order management and WMS systems, and benchmarking. For more information, go to www.fcbco.com.