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Delays on Order Fulfillment or Poor Customer Service Will Doom Business in 2021

An interesting survey came out last week that shines a harsh light on companies that may think 2021 will be the beginning of a “return to normal” in the post-pandemic world. The results of these surveys show an urgent need for customers to accelerate their plans for robotics, automation, and digital delivery of goods and services.

The first survey, sponsored by Voxware, showed 73% of consumers saying that retailers that met or exceeded their expectations will get more business from them in the future. Even more telling – 53% of respondents said they will never place another order with certain retailers that mishandled their order fulfillment.

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Customers. You wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.

With COVID-19 laying waste to established supply chains and disrupting businesses left and right, the holiday shopping season would be seen as a bellwether on how much of the fulfillment process was repaired, improved, or stabilized. Sadly, many retailers and businesses fell short of their goals. In the survey, 56% of respondents reported that the gifts they purchased online arrived later than the date that was promised at the time of purchase. Of those who reported getting gifts later than promised, the problem was not isolated to a single order. Half of those who received gifts late said more than 25% of their gifts were delayed.

Failure to communicate

A lack of communication between retailers and customers was also cited as being poor during the holiday season.

  • 42% said retailers did not provide enough information about delayed items.
  • 41% said customer service was unavailable or unable to address questions or concerns.
  • 37% said packages delivered did not include information for making a return.
  • 45% said information for tracking packages was unclear or not provided.

“Heading into the holiday shopping season, we knew it was vital that distribution centers perform to meet both demand and rising consumer expectations,” said Keith Phillips, president, and CEO of Voxware. “These numbers indicate a mixed performance from retailers and should serve as a wake-up call to the industry to advance their distribution systems to ensure a flawless customer experience. We now know that 53% of consumers will not purchase from an online retailer who failed to meet their expectations this holiday season. With e-commerce continuing to grow, brands cannot afford many mistakes, or the consumer will take their business elsewhere.

Customers willing to leave

Poor fulfillment adds to the frustration for many customers, who are growing more and more impatient these days. A Forbes 2020 survey on “Achieving Customer Amazement” showed 96.2% of customers willing to leave because of bad customer service. While many customers were willing to give businesses some benefit of the doubt in the early days of the pandemic, that’s all gone now. 

“A term being used lately is the ‘Now Customer,’ who expects to get what they want almost immediately,” writes Shep Hyken in this Forbes article. “This goes beyond a lack of patience with having to wait on hold or stand in long lines. When customers can order online and get rapid delivery (sometimes two hours or less), they are training their brains to enjoy the experience and hope they get it from every business. They don’t want to wait for the merchandise to be delivered, wait on hold, wait in line at a restaurant … you get the idea. The customer wants it now!”

With impatient customers angry at bad service and late delays, it’s absolutely imperative for companies and retailers to accelerate any robotics and automation projects, or be left in the dust by competitors who can quickly get goods from point A to point B.

Robotics have proven their value for many companies handling online order fulfillment. Locus Robotics, for example, announced that its robots averaged more than 1.2 million units picked per day during the 2020 Cyber Week (which includes Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc.). A total of 70 million units were picked on behalf of its global retail and third-party logistics customers, a 250% increase over 2019 picks, the company added.

With most experts saying that the pandemic will continue through the first part of 2021, there seems little to indicate that customer demand for products, and demands on fast delivery will wane. On the bright side, robotics and automation can help mitigate –  if not eliminate – customers struggling with supply chain and fulfillment issues.