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During COVID-19, Manufacturers Can Cut Costs with Sales Order Automation

May 19, 2020
Touchless sales order automation—when emailed orders are automatically delivered into an ERP system and become sales orders—are enabling companies to win back thousands of hours of human capital that is reallocated to revenue-generating processes

A recent Ernst & Young survey revealed how seriously the manufacturing sector has been shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most manufacturers, the survey discovered, are predicting a "U-shaped" recovery, extending right into 2021.

Looking to the future, amongst manufacturing business leaders:

  • 69% are already taking steps to change the way they manage their workforce.
  • 78% are increasing the velocity of their automation initiatives.
  • 67% are increasing the velocity of their digital transformation.

Manufacturers are reacting in the right way. Times are tough right now, but the way to respond is by unlocking the potential of automation strategies and the digitization of dated, traditional processes. Digital transformation isn’t just a cool-sounding idea, to be brainstormed next quarter. It is a must.

Digital Automation: Adapt & Overcome the Crisis

At the foundation of the supply chain, cost reductions and productivity boosts are everything. Across manufacturing, when manual and time-consuming processes are upleveled so that they become digital, faster, and more efficient, the gains are exponential.

One area where digital automation can have a big impact is the handling of sales orders.

The pressures of COVID-19 have made handling sales orders harder than ever for manufacturers. Delivery times are all over the place, and companies are drowning in enquiries from worried customers. With all the confusion, people want calm and clear information.

In manufacturing, the quality of customer relationships is crucial. Amidst the current craziness, to continue to serve their customers well, enterprises need their customer service representatives (CSRs) operating at full capacity. This is how they can show stability and calm at a time when many of their competitors are scrambling.

But all of a sudden, most CSRs are working from home. They are out of the office environment, and can’t access their usual tools. They are dealing with their own emotional stresses. It’s understandable that productivity takes a hit. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, customer enquiries are flooding in, and they are more complex and high stakes than ever.

At a time when CSRs need as much free attention as they can get, their time is being squeezed.

What is a major source of this squeeze, even prior to Covid-19? Manual order processing. On average, CSRs spend one-third of every single day manually keying in the purchase orders they receive from customers. One third. Hundreds of hours a month.

Most manufacturers rely on this traditional, manual method. In truth, this approach has always been slow. And when purchase orders can often be super complex and finicky, errors always creep in. Traditionally, purchase order backlogs face overnight delays or require overtime to be processed. The data shows that the unnecessary cost of all this can be as high as $26 per order. And at present, the cost inefficiencies of this dated approach are more dangerous than ever.

Sales order processing can be automated, immediately reducing costs and unlocking a massive amount of new productivity. Using custom-built software, a company can automatically convert emailed purchase orders into sales orders in the ERP system without any intervention or handling by a CSR. Through the power of automation and AI, order processing can take minutes, not hours. Data extraction can be performed with total accuracy.

This form of digital automation accelerates the sales order process, helping companies win back thousands of hours of human capital. Those hours can then be dedicated to tasks that add value to the organization, such as real, high-quality customer service, and other revenue-generating activities.

As the COVID-19 pandemic was worsening, Sandy Shen, a Senior Director Analyst at Gartner, said the following:

“This is a wake-up call for organizations that have placed too much focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience. Businesses that can shift technology capacity and investments to digital platforms will mitigate the impact of the outbreak and keep their companies running smoothly now, and over the long term."

Shen was spot on here. There are various areas and business processes where automation can create new efficiencies and possibilities. Whether it’s sales orders automation or some other form of automation, all leaders need to be considering where they are still burdened with manual processes, and how they can leave them behind and uplevel.

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed that digitization is the route by which manufacturers can safeguard critical business objectives during disrupted times. By trading dated processes for manual ones, they cut costs and boost productivity. It’s a fast, high impact, high ROI initiative that empowers manufacturers to do more with less. This boost is much-needed right now. It will be just as valuable once the crisis is over. Now is the time to act.