94% of Fortune 1000 companies have experienced supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic. Moreover, 75% of companies have suffered strongly negative business impacts, while 55% are downgrading their growth outlook. Workforces forced to work remote, travel and transportation bans, supply shortages and delivery delays – these supply chain challenges are a recipe for stagnant growth.

While COVID-19’s initial effects are slowly receding, distributors and wholesale manufacturers are reimagining their operations to adapt to the new normal. Rarely have supply chain leaders faced such complex, varying conditions. Rarely has the pressure to create new business resiliency been so acute. How can business leaders restore supply chain stability? One powerful method is supply chain automation.

 

Why Supply Chain Automation is Crucial in the Wake of COVID-19

Modernizing the supply chain process flow cuts expenses and maximizes workforce productivity. However, when you’re optimizing the supply chain through digital transformation initiatives, everything can’t happen at once. The key to a successful digital transformation is to take it one step at a time. By upgrading dated processes with the help of technology, enterprises can quickly start to do more with less.

In a crisis like COVID-19, there are effects that are beyond an enterprise’s control. However, there is always a section of the supply chain that enterprises can influence: end-to-end delivery to customers. Introducing supply chain automation into the process is an effective way to ensure that this section of the supply chain runs as smoothly as possible. The effort will succeed best if companies leverage platforms that support applied analytics, AI, and machine learning.

 

How Supply Chain Automation Boosts Customer Service

During the pandemic, one of the most trying supply chain challenges has been customer service. Many enterprises have been suffering from an unpreparedness for remote work, delayed and scrambled deliveries, and overwhelming customer inquiries. Meanwhile, CSRs (customer service representatives) are under a lot of pressure, as they work from home without their usual tools and deal with this influx.

Worst of all, though, is the fact that CSRs are swamped with repetitive, manual tasks.  CSRs across distribution and manufacturing sectors spend about a third of their day converting purchase orders into sales orders manually. This clunky process hampers productivity and slows down supply chain collaboration.

In 2019, manual order processing was responsible for a total of $8.4 trillion dollars in B2B sales from U.S. manufacturing and distribution enterprises. However, this kind of processing is painstakingly inefficient, dated, and prone to errors. Purchase-order backlogs could sit idle overnight, or cost as high as $26 per order to process overtime.

This section of the supply chain can be drastically improved. With the right custom-built software, a fully-automated sales order process is possible. Software can automatically convert emailed purchase orders into sales orders with 100% accuracy. Your CSR teams need not waste time trying to intervene and process orders manually. This benefits your supply chain collaboration, allowing CSRs to interact with more customers.

By automating a previously manual process, companies significantly accelerate the sales order process. Companies regain thousands of staff hours, which they can reallocate to activities that add value: for example, high-quality customer service and other revenue-generating processes.

 

Automation is the Future

Most companies are looking at implementing supply chain automation in the near future. Visual Capitalist reports that 55% of retail, management, and logistics professionals are investing in warehouse automation, and 47% in predictive analytics. 

Traditionally, this automation has been associated with the warehouse floor. However, automation is just as key for core business processes that involve crucial business documents (like sales orders). When foundational, day-to-day business processes happen smoothly, supply chain stability is the natural result.

This pandemic has shown business leaders in any industry that they need to reform their dated, inefficient processes. Now is the best time to become as resilient and agile as possible so that your business endures now and is ready for the next crisis. Supply chain automation can aid manufacturers and distributors in optimizing business processes and effectively boost their supply chain stability by enabling enterprises to keep customer service standards high even in difficult times.

Sales order automation is a form of supply chain automation that is high-impact and high-ROI. Enterprises can maximize their cost savings and revenue opportunities, minus the need for additional expenses and extra resources. This approach will build greater responsiveness and resilience into the supply chain process flow to protect against future disruptions.