Though it plays a critical role in the journey from shelf to package to the shipping dock and then, eventually, to the customer's doorstep, packaging fulfillment is often one of the most overlooked and thereby dysfunctional parts of a business.
Many business experts say that you should treat such a function as a type of customer service. Do it well, it can have a huge boost for relationship building and growing your brand. Do it poorly, and it doesn’t matter how great your product may be— customers are going to remember that experience when they think of your brand.
Despite the fact that your fulfillment team has a direct impact on consumer buying behavior and building brand loyalty, it’s likely you’re less concerned about developing a coherent supply chain strategy than you are about creating your next marketing campaign— even if you are pouring a considerable amount of money into operations.
But financial investment doesn’t necessarily equate to operational success.
So if packaging fulfillment should be viewed as an integral function of customer service, what's the best way to do it? Should you suck it up and take care of things in house? Or might it be better to explore outsourcing your fulfillment?
Here are some questions to ask yourself if you're still hesitant about outsourcing:
1. Is it cost effective to keep fulfillment in house?
When you're running a business, the bottom line is cost. If one aspect of a business is not running profitably, you need to take steps to ensure that this area is contributing to the growth of the business. Or, at the very least, not actively hindering growth.
So with that being said, the first thing you should ask yourself when you explore your fulfillment options is whether or not it's cost effective to keep operations in house.
Consider the following scenario: You own a publishing company that prints at least 5 new titles every quarter. As a publisher, you could, of course, manage fulfillment in-house— sorting, mailing, and handling the inevitable returns of each title from both retail locations (which can often mean dealing with boxes of ill-sorted books that include titles that were published by other companies) and individual customers.
Or you could outsource to an experienced provider that has both the staff and the systems in place to easily track and handle the most complex orders or shipping instruction.
2. Are you neglecting product or service development to keep things in house?
Although the success of a business ventures comes down to cost and bottom line, it doesn’t matter how much money you’re saving by keeping fulfillment in house if it’s diverting attention away from critical business functions.
As a business, you specialize in something— whether it's publishing, as in the example noted above, or some other consumer product. And you're likely good at it, so good that there's a significant demand in the market for your service.
Ask yourself if, by keeping your fulfillment in house, are you focusing less attention on the things that you're really good at, the things that got your business to the point that it's at today?
More than likely, in-house fulfillment is turning out to be a greater investment than expected.
If you’re spending more on overhead and staffing for your fulfillment operations than you are for R&D, manufacturing, or marketing, you may need to reassess where your priorities lie. Outsourcing would let your business refocus on the things that really matter.
3. Does your in-house team have the temperament and training for customer service?
You shouldn't bite off more than you can chew, especially when it comes to packaging fulfillment. And as fulfillment is an integral link in the chain from factory to consumer, you need team that has the training and temperament for customer service.
You’re going to have any number of customers calling in to complain about damaged products, incorrectly filled orders, or any other number of things that can go wrong during fulfillment. It takes a certain type of person to make sure that an angry caller is a satisfied customer at the end of a call. Can you team handle that pressure?