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How can your Call/Contact Centre support the developing role of Supply Chain Management?

Despite the very large proportion of expenditure that companies spend on goods passing in and out of their organisation, purchasing is in some cases assumed to be simply a problem of just taking care of minor details, putting the pressure on suppliers and fulfilling customer orders. It is often envisaged as a clerical function, looking after ordering, checking deliveries, dealing with quality and questions of mistakes on deliveries and, finally, handling credit limits. Although the costs are large, the basic belief appears to be that purchasing is outside the control of the business and is certainly outside the strategic field for competing with competitors and charting the future.

The new interest in this sought after quest has led to several attempts to redefine the purchasing function in terms of supplies management, supply chain management, and, in the end, the concept of business-to-business integration through partnerships. In order for this process to be home grown and not left only in the hands of the supplying organisations, companies must involve their people in the thinking behind their chosen process and deliver a system that is best suited to them.

With the introduction of e-commerce and a new awareness of supply chains has brought this issue back to the forefront of many organisations. The race to be competitive has made this issue even more

accelerated than in past eras. E-commerce has separated the communication of what is on offer, as represented by information, from what is actually supplied through the physical delivery process. Add in the potential for electronic payment at the end of the exchange and you have the capability to simplify the numerous administrative links. This still does not leave organisations without the need for trained in-house people to manage and fulfil the system whilst creating a check and balance system.

With the rush to get on-line, it is sometimes forgotten that there is a lot more to e-commerce than a slick website, which often promises more than it can deliver. In fact, the backbone of any successful e-commerce strategy is an efficient and effective supply chain that incorporates people that can assist when need be. This means a seamless chain from the customer placing the order, through supplier,

warehouse and deliverer, to the customer receiving the order. In an increasingly competitive world, sites which fail to produce will fail to survive. It has been noted that the introduction of this medium has not decreased the number of calls into a call centre but has in fact increased them by up to 20%. The increase comes in the form of more educated questions and many of them about one stage of the supply chain.

In this regard the Internet is just another channel to market, albeit a new and very powerful one, and must be integrated with the rest of the business. Fulfilling an order, for instance, is not only about dispatch. In order to guarantee delivery dates, you must know what is in stock. And therefore the inventory system must be link to your call centre agent. This applies to every stage in the chain.

Just remember the key is that the supply chain should be

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optimised not to fill the warehouse, but to deliver to the customer. The future lies in applications that could make supply chain management more proactive. It could be capable of generating demand and enhancing flexibility, for example, by allowing for extra requests from customers or for modifications to products. This can all be channelled through a multi skilled call centre workforce. Further, it could be a forecasting tool that highlights which products customers are asking for and whether the chain is sufficiently flexible to produce the goods.

In closing, educate your call centre on what an important role they play in the overall

process of supply and profitability to the company. Empower your agents to give management the insight to fine tune your system and make it work to your further advantage.

Copyright Author:
Amita Krishna
Director of KrisTEL
IT Malaysia August 2001.