Believe it or not, you can do this data cleansing in conjunction with the customer portal project. Let’s talk about that.
3. Plan to cleanse your SAP ERP data as you go
You can’t succeed with a customer portal if there isn’t “one true truth” for your business data. If some data lives in SAP, some in the heads of customer service reps, and some in a separate customer portal database, you’re going to have problems. Here’s where an SAP-integrated portal offers a powerful benefit that you won’t get with a standalone portal (i.e. one that has its own database): It forces you to get business processes and data out of people’s heads and sticky notes, and into SAP ERP, where it belongs. This can be hard for some organizations, but it’s entirely worth it—and the process gets easier with a trusted advisor to guide you. Benefits of committing to 100% accurate SAP ERP data
- You become easier to do business with.
- Customers get complete transparency on products, prices, orders, credit status, and more, whether they’re getting the information from a rep or from the portal. Your organization becomes more customer-centric.
- Accurate SAP data correlates directly with faster scheduling. Manual validation processes can add 1-2 days to the process. For packaging SKUs with a 3-week lead time, this creates considerable waste at scale. 100% accurate ERP data allows product to ship within hours of order placement.
- You end your knowledge management problems once and for all, rather than facing them again whenever a seasoned employee leaves and/or you have to hire more reps.
- Standardized processes reduce the chance of errors and increase customer trust, which directly feeds retention.
- Engaging customers in the portal project (and data cleanup project) builds engagement and trust, as it shows you care about their needs.
- You can take advantage of a customer portal platform (like the Corevist Platform) that includes prebuilt integration for ECC or S/4HANA and supports all standard configurations related to the order-to-cash cycle. This means you don’t have to build a risky middleware-based architecture to keep the portal synced with SAP.
How to get your SAP ERP data ready for a customer portal Ideally, you’ll want to find a portal implementation partner who can advise on best practices for configuration. Look for a partner who has deep subject-matter expertise in SAP, SD, OTC, ABAP, and best practices for manufacturers. Hint: This is why the Corevist Team is composed of SAP experts. When we implement the Corevist Platform for a client, we engage a deep, collaborative process to align your SAP configuration not only with Corevist’s requirements, but with general best practices. Depending on your SAP ERP configuration, there are several things that may need to be cleaned up.
- Customer master data
- Orderable products
- Substituted products
- Available to promise (ATP)
- Customer pricing
While you could start cleaning up your data before you engage a partner for your customer portal, it’s best to wait until you’ve selected a platform and partner. That way, all configuration changes will support your future direction as a customer-first organization.
4. Plan to automate email PO’s
Not all aspects of a seamless ordering cycle are obvious to customers. Automating email PO’s is one of those things. Customers won’t necessarily know you’re doing it, but it frees up your reps to spend more time acting as strategic advisors, which directly impacts your value to the customer. What’s more, automated processing gets those orders to production faster. It shortens the ordering cycle for both warehousing and make-and-ship customers. With the lead-times that are typical in the packaging industry, this makes a huge impact. How to automate email PO’s A decent customer portal platform should include the capability to automate email orders and post them to SAP hands-free (assuming there are no errors). That’s the thinking behind Corevist BuyBot (available as an add-on to the Corevist Platform). This automated utility reads incoming PDF orders attached to emails and simulates them against the relevant business rules in SAP. BuyBot checks the customer’s allowable SKUs, contract pricing, quantity rounding rules, and more. If the order doesn’t contain errors, BuyBot posts it to SAP instantly, using the SAP integration architecture that comes with the Corevist Platform. If BuyBot detects errors, it routes the order to your customer service team for review.
5. Plan to offer true self-service order placement
Imagine an ordering process in which a customer builds their own order in a self-service shopping cart, then posts it instantly to SAP ERP. The order doesn’t require manual intervention because it conforms 100% to the relevant SAP business rules. This might sound impossible in the packaging industry, but it’s quite doable. (Just ask Emmerson Packaging.) When you give customers the responsibility to create well-formed orders, you take that responsibility off your plate. You also push customers to know their own needs and your products better. When customers engage more deeply on this level, they gain control over the process, which takes away fear and ambiguity. Empowering customers to place error-free orders Some processes will always require back-and-forth human interaction. If a warehousing customer has highly specific requirements for a new SKU, or if they need expert advice on specifications, your reps will always play a crucial role. But once that process is over and an SKU exists in SAP, why should your subject matter experts (your reps) have to re-key long PO’s into SAP? That’s not a good use of their time. A self-service ordering solution empowers your customers to order those finalized SKUs (and/or release them from warehouse stock) on any device. The key here is to offer a customer portal that’s deeply integrated to SAP ERP. This is the best way to provide essential elements of a self-service ordering experience—things like:
- A catalog that shows only the customer’s unique SKUs
- Real-time inventory availability (including support for complex inventory reports displayed dynamically from SAP)
- 100% accurate contract pricing (including dynamic adjustment for quantity discounts)
- Order placement by CSV upload (to support procurement workflows)
- Intelligent error messaging, driven by SAP responses, to help customers fix problems with their orders before placing them
- Only 100% error-free orders accepted and posted to SAP
The last two points are especially important. This is where you give customers the responsibility to create well-formed orders. You can’t do this if you don’t empower them with intelligent error messaging to help them fix problems. While SAP spits out error responses, you need an additional communication layer in the customer portal to translate those outputs into messages that your customers will understand. A solution like the Corevist Platform takes care of this.
Question: Is this the end of customer service?
Absolutely not! In fact, customers need more human insight than ever when sourcing packaging. The key here is not to replace your reps, but to elevate them. With mundane tasks taken off their plate—things like providing order status, credit status, or entering PO’s into SAP—you empower your reps to put their expertise to use. They can pivot to highly strategic roles as customer advisors and product experts. Ultimately, that benefits everyone involved. Customers get more time with the experts to figure out their needs and design solutions. They also get faster turnaround times on orders. Reps get more rewarding work, as they’re asked to play a crucial, strategic role in customer success. This role requires subject matter expertise, which allows reps to flex their muscles with helpful industry knowledge. Your operations get more efficient, too. With humans taken out of the communication chain for routine actions (order tracking, invoice checking, credit status, inventory checks, order placement, etc.), you speed up your order-to-cash cycle. With reps doing more rewarding work, you should also see less churn in your customer service staff. This gives you more opportunity to grow each rep into a subject matter expert who’s invaluable to customers.
Takeaway: Engage an expert partner to help you plan and execute your path
It’s not enough to tackle this with consultants. And it’s not enough to just buy technology. You’ll get better results with a comprehensive partner who not only knows the packaging industry and SAP, but also builds and supports B2B portals and eCommerce solutions on a best-in-class platform. Here at Corevist, we’ve developed the Corevist Platform over 14 years of solving B2B challenges. The platform includes prebuilt, SAP-certified integration for SAP or S/4HANA, and it supports complex use cases in packaging. We manage and support all our solutions and act as strategic advisors on our clients’ next chapters. Ultimately, that’s a great path to a seamless ordering lifecycle.