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In an earlier post, we discussed the importance of forecasts during the holiday peak season. Forecasts are simply a communication of how much business a brand thinks they’ll do within a particular period. Today, we’ll discuss the high-level communication that needs to happen regularly between an eCommerce brand and a 3PL provider. Certainly, this applies to programs that also operate in B2B, retail, or wholesale channels.
In Project Management training, there’s a ubiquitous communication diagram that in the middle, includes a sender and a receiver with a message passing between them. Zoom out and there are more elements to this image of communication. In our case, there’s the 3PL, the brand, IT, the suppliers, carriers, etc. The lines of communication can grow exponentially. Each party must encode and transmit a message, then decode multiple important and time-sensitive messages. Then respond. All the while they’ve got to deal with the background noise and time demands that are a part of every work environment.
In addition to the daily phone calls and emails that occur between the different people at a brand and their 3PL Program Managers as a regular part of the day, it’s a good idea to stick to a structured communications plan for a successful relationship between your eCommerce brand and 3PL company. There are specific kinds of communication that occur to satisfy specific program needs, whether it’s a check-in or a meeting that focuses on peak planning.
Every day, a brand should receive an email from their program manager that identifies key issues and documents SLA performance. This is an informative communication from a tactical perspective — what has happened today in the brand’s fulfillment life. A diary entry.
Weekly, there should be a scheduled call to discuss forecasts, upcoming projects, promotional events, service levels, and other aspects of the program. This is the health check where the pulse of the program is regularly taken.
Monthly, planning meetings should be held to discuss infrastructure requirements — maybe new product is coming in and has to be slotted into different sized racks. The monthly call should seek to discuss the program from a more long-ranged and strategic viewpoint.
A fully strategic meeting is the Quarterly Business Review (commonly referred to here at Dotcom as the QBR). This is where area experts from a range of relevant logistical and eCommerce operations teams will speak about specific elements of a program. So, in addition to the program manager, a member of the quality and inventory team should be present to speak about packaging. Freight analysis should be prepared to discuss options for cost savings and carrier options. A receiving supervisor should provide guidance for efficiencies that can be achieved for lower costs further up in the supply chain so that items can be more quickly received, put away, and be readied for sale. It’s at these QBRs that the program can be more deeply understood and refined by a 3PL.
In times where there is variability or change in order volumes, like for promotions, peaks, planned or unplanned publicity, there really is no such thing as over communication. This idea of constant communication is so incredibly important because, during these periods, daily plans are constantly being fine-tuned, sometimes making changes down to the hour as 3PL and brand pass new information between one another.
Collectively, all of this guidance is designed to streamline operations, meet SLA and result in happier 3PL and customer relationships for eCommerce brands.