For businesses, the pandemic is the great accelerator. It pushed forward the pace of already-occurring trends. For example, trade shows and industry events were still held in person before the pandemic, but many were shifting toward digital presentation. Now, digital is at the forefront of this industry and dozens of others. Lawyers and accountants are holding video conferences instead of in-person consultations. Even education has gone digital (at least until the pandemic eases).
Similar trends were already in place with business software, but some companies still used paper or Excel sheets to manage operations or inventory, resisting digital and cloud-based options. Those companies were already slipping behind the competition and will fade into obscurity if they cannot adapt to the new digital demands and customer expectations.
Industries focused on at-home experiences – such as swimming pool and hot tub companies, gardening supply makers, and stationary bike manufacturers – are thriving, which puts pressure on related companies to perform and meet customer expectations. On the other side, "out-and-about" industries like restaurants and move theaters have stagnated due to plummeting demand.
The pressing need for unified connectivity
Performing well in a digital world requires companies to invest in cloud-based software tools that connect different systems and enable a seamless customer experience. Retail companies need omnichannel selling and repeatable customer transactions. This means offering e-commerce options, contactless payment, curbside pickup, and in-store purchases all through a single platform.
This technology keeps pricing and products consistent across a company's channels. For example, if a customer buys a pool supply provider's shock treatment online, it needs to be for the same price as the same item sold off the truck by the pool technician.
The platform must also be able to handle multiple types of purchase. In the pool example, the shock treatment is a cash-and-carry purchase, but what if the company also sells hot tubs? That's a considered purchase for most buyers. They want to visit the store a few times, ask questions, and think about their options. The business needs a customer relationship management (CRM) component for its platform to continue the dialogue with the customer until they make a purchase decision. If the customer comes into the store and spends 30 minutes looking at various options, the retailer needs to do more than take down their number on paper. It must integrate with the enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, which can create a quote or estimate and communicate special discounts or other incentives. Modern retail businesses won't survive without this type of engagement and connectivity.
Improving retail and inventory connections requires an ERP platform with a full suite of features, such as these:
- EMV- and chip-compliant transactions
- Digital customer signature and data capture stored in the cloud
- Assurance of high-end encryption for customer data and payment information
- Ability to capture data to inform marketing efforts and ensure customer data continuity
100% inventory visibility
All businesses need to manage inventory in real time. It's no longer just an option – it's a requirement. Businesses need cloud-based technology to bring visibility to inventory management. Where is every single product? Is it in transit, on the service truck or in the warehouse? Answering these questions with a connected ERP platform helps companies free up cash flow and manage seasonal or geographic fluctuations in demand. Business managers with visibility into every transaction can better handle multisite inventory management so they can order products dynamically and with context.
Quality ERP platforms offer multiple inventory-specific features, including these:
- Real-time product counts by individual SKU, showing amounts that are on hand, on order and reserved
- Granular tracking that shows the exact bin, aisle or truck where the product is located
- Ability to build custom product bundles and kits, giving retailers the flexibility to offer new products and respond to shifting customer demand
Armed with these features, inventory managers can act confidently that the business can manage shifting demand to satisfy the customers.
Improving service teams
For businesses with a service/technician component, an ERP platform is a tool to streamline operations and tie together inventory management. So, when a customer updates a service rep in the field with their new address or product order, the rep can enter it immediately, and the information is universally changed in all the connected systems. These timesaving actions add up week by week to reduce ordering errors and keep the customers happy.
To streamline service team operations, look for a software provider that offers the following:
- Optimized crew routing with Google Maps, letting service managers track and redirect service crews as needed
- Detailed scheduling to keep crews working efficiently
- Communication through text and email notifications to give customers "on my way" and other status messages
- "Digital door hangers" that summarize the services rendered
Service team management is traditionally performed through various disconnected apps or legacy scheduling systems. It's difficult to scale these types of operations without integrating service calls into an ERP. Companies need the actions of the service team to be visible and connected to the other operations, with vendor, customer and inventory data all residing in a single cloud platform.
Finding the right platform for the pain points
Software providers often meet with potential clients who are unprepared for the engagement. The client might simply show up without any thoughts given to their specific needs and sit through the vendor's presentation. The scale of digital change requires business owners to be fully invested in finding software tools that solve definable and measurable problems. This requires making a list of your wants and needs as a business owner and the key pain points that technology could solve. It's a crucial first step because it focuses the conversation on solving problems, such as the need for improved inventory management, tighter cybersecurity, or data backups and redundancies.
Armed with a list of your pain points, you should also request a free trial of your prospective software platform. This is especially important when choosing a system intended for use by a variety of employees, from the cashiers to the warehouse managers. Hands-on usage ensures the platform's user interface and features match the employee's skill level and business needs.
Top-tier business operations software providers excel at integrating previously disconnected systems. For example, a merchant might use one app to coordinate appointments and sales for service reps in the field, a different vendor for POS cash register sales, outdated inventory software, and a rudimentary e-commerce platform that records sales on an Excel sheet. A software provider can connect all of these processes together in a way that makes sense and improves every related job function.
Look for software providers that offer integration across all these business operations, with unified views of product and customer status. For a company running multiple tools that do not "talk" to each other, a cloud-based omnichannel platform brings more efficient inventory management, smoother operations and happier customers. The right tech brings organization and reliability, so business owners and staff can focus on delighting the customer and boosting revenue.