An Innovation Checklist for Direct to Customer Operations

The recent Executive Operations Forum at Operations Summit 2017 generated many ideas and cost-savings tips. What improvements, best practices and innovations have you implemented in your contact center, fulfillment and inventory management?

Here are 27 innovations that six direct to customer companies attending the forum have implemented: 

PHE Inc.

  • Introduced incentive pay system in pick and pack; experienced tremendous increase in picking rate and increase in earnings for its best employees.
  • Starting to use tablet functions in the DC.
  • Increased training for new people. 


Premier WD

  • Revised incentive structure in call center; allowed for a reduction in headcount with an improvement in service levels. Savings were split among the team members. Better metrics emphasizing utilization.
  • Introduced a third-party training group which has had a huge impact on soft skills in the call center that the company wouldn’t have attained on its own.


House of Antique Hardware

  • The call center’s focus on providing exemplary customer service includes a weekly check of social media review sites (Yelp, Google+, Facebook, Better Business Bureau, Amazon, Bizrate, etc.) so everyone sees and knows how things are going. Every agent has links to these sites and can monitor them daily. Set goal of providing service or product training at every scheduled call center meeting.
  • The call center has improved service levels and customer satisfaction. There was a spike of negative reviews in late 2016 that has improved in 2017.  What used to be good customer service is no longer good enough. Empowered agents are encouraged to solve problems first and outside the chain of command if it is the right thing to do for the customer, with some limitations.
  • Implementing WMS and barcoding in 2017; shooting for break-even in year one, with positive returns in years two and three and beyond.
  • The WMS will increase SKU accuracy, reduce internal errors and order errors (wrong item or quantity, etc.). The company estimates a cost savings of approximately $45 per error.


DCL Corp.

  • Improved slotting by adding additional slot sizes and higher product density, reducing picker travel time – a big savings.
  • Added more picking methods (pick-to-box and bin cart)
  • Moved to replenishing forward pick slots based on velocity; thus reducing indirect labor.
  • Improved the customer web portal, reducing questions and queries.


  • Automated some data entry work associated with setting up new items, reducing indirect labor and cycle time.
  • Continued cross-training between pick/pack/ship, RMA and assembly work. The resulting flexibility is huge, allowing the company to run with a smaller staff and fewer temps.
  • Increased wages, helping to attract more productive, reliable associates. Moved the annual raises up from Q1 to Q4; good morale booster during peak.
  • The company will implement more lean principles in 2017.


Destination Maternity

  • The use of a third-party call center has significantly reduced the abandonment rate and improved response times by sharing services.
  • Implementing omnichannel fulfillment with ship from DC and ship from store, making better use of inventory and reducing markdowns.


eCommerce Outdoors 

  • Managing inventory with a hybrid supply chain model of bulk stock inventory of the fastest-moving SKUs; supplemented with a significant number of just-in-time orders which are cross-docked and immediately shipped; drop shipments directly from the vendor.
  • Integrated its CRM (Salesforce) with its OMS, VoIP call center software, emails and chat for a unified view of the customer, including screen pops that show order and contact history.
  • Multi-carrier rate shopping and mode optimization.
  • Limited 52-page catalog inserts to first-time buyers to keep the weight down; repeat buyers get smaller 12-page insert. Automatically determining first-time buyers and indicating discreetly on the packing slip.
  • Managing and fulfilling all international packages in house to gain customer service efficiency and economy.
  • Picking from large retail store and the DC six days per week; developed processes and procedures for highly accurate inventory counts and order processing.
  • In the early stages of self-implementing Microsoft Dynamics 365 as ERP/CRM; hired a full-time person with extensive implementation experience. Trying to use as much out-of-the-box functionality as possible to reduce customization cost and implementation time.

Thank you to the forum attendees for volunteering these innovations!

Curt Barry is president of F. Curtis Barry & Company

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