MISSION VIEJO, CA — Forecasting the future isn’t a task restricted to tabloid psychics or your TV weatherman. Whether we like it or not, running a successful business today that will remain successful in the future requires forecasting skills. Let’s test yours right now. We’ll start with the easiest questions and make them progressively more difficult.
Picture this. You have gone five years into the future. It’s now the winter of 2009. Are vehicles and their parts more technologically sophisticated? Definitely. Has a frigid cold snap gripped the northeast? Probably. Was Super Bowl XLIII a great excuse to shake the winter doldrums and overeat for a few hours? That never changes. Do heating bills and gasoline prices continue to climb? Count on it. Has Jennifer Lopez married and divorced again? Too easy. Are “reality” TV shows a thing of the past? Please make it so. Does the newly inaugurated President have a daughter named Chelsea and a husband named Bill? Let’s not go there. Now for the bonus question: Are you still in business? Yikes! This pop quiz got harder very quickly!
As you ponder that last question, keep in mind that technology has had a tremendous impact on how customers order goods. Cost savings, increased service speed and efficiency, better customer relationship management, accounting accuracy and improved resource utilization can be achieved by leveraging the power of technology. In fact, few areas of business have been impacted more by technology in the past decade than ordering methods. New processes and accompanying tools that utilize new communications alternatives have been adopted at all levels of the automotive parts supply chain, not just between the consumer and retailer.
All of the respondents to last week’s question regarding ordering methods used by their customers told us that they were using all available methods. In future polls, we may delve deeper into the percentage of each ordering method used by your business.
Even before the Internet provided a whole new alternative to traditional phone-based communications, new ways of approaching the ordering function were being adopted. All of us should be familiar with CRM (Customer Relationship Management), which leverages our ability to use computer power to gather and store valuable information about our customers, their product ordering patterns and needs and other vital aspects of their business relationship with us. We use this stock of CRM information to gain insight — how to better serve our customers to increase their satisfaction and ultimately, their loyalty as measured by increased purchases over time.
Early CRM studies in manufacturing and distribution situations revealed that most customers were hungry for more variety in ordering methods. While suppliers thought, for example, that direct sales contact was the most important ordering mechanism, customers wanted less direct sales contact in exchange for more service-oriented contact and other ways to get orders to the supplier. Inbound telephone centers using advanced phone switching technology, fax-based ordering and Internet-based ordering tools emerged to fill the gap. Suppliers had new lower cost options that actually improved customer satisfaction, providing a two pronged opportunity for profit improvement.
Getting back to our forecasting quiz, we believe that a business that has not adopted and embraced Internet-based ordering technology within the next three years will not be around to conduct business in five years. And if a business does not start the process of incorporating ordering technology now, they won’t be pros at it in three years. Those who choose to “wait and see” will be devoured by their competition who accurately forecasted future trends and chose to keep current.
Existing examples of how technology improves the ordering process provide compelling reasons to act now:
* Technology provides a means for your business to be available to your customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week without lunch breaks or vacations or sick days. Customers can place tomorrow’s orders late in the evening or at their convenience so they are ready to be filled bright and early the next morning when you open your doors.
* Technology expands your product marketing bandwidth by making your customers completely knowledgeable about the items you sell. How many of your customers know what your complete product catalog encompasses?
* Technology decreases returns because it improves ordering accuracy. When an Internet-based parts ordering system is integrated with an electronic catalog that asks the user qualifying questions and specifies the right part for the right job, your customers can make the correct selection the first time.
* Technology builds trust among your customers because when they know your business has the part they need in stock, they don’t need to search further.
* Technology increases your efficiency and delivery speed, gaining your customer’s loyalty. When delivery time is an issue and a customer is ordering the same part from multiple vendors to pit you and your competitors in a race, your business can be the “first guy to get it there.”
* Technology builds customer loyalty while increasing business growth. Seattle Automotive Distributing Inc., a six-location, full line distributor, primarily of ACDelco products, reported sustained monthly exponential new business sales growth of 25 percent last year, attributing the achievement to a combination of the flexibility and cutting-edge technology of DSTWare and its Internet-based ordering system, TurboParts, with the corporate philosophy of maintaining personalized attention and customer satisfaction.
* Technology can even transform more cumbersome ordering methods, such as inbound hard copy faxes, into efficient, robust, automated transactions that are brought into a receive queue and quickly routed to the correct individual for action and can be viewed, appended, or acted upon immediately.
Back to forecasting. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Will they remain loyal if you can’t retain a competitive advantage offered by improved ordering methods? We’ll only know for sure in 2009.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topics we post, suggestions for additional questions and anything you’d like to share. Send us an email at: [email protected] .
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“DST Asks” is written and sponsored by DST Inc. The opinions expressed in “DST Asks” articles appearing on aftermarketNews.com do not necessarily reflect the opinions of AMN or Babcox Publications.