Left Hand, Right Hand: Navigating Broken Systems Between the Staff and the Customer — The Struggle and Its Business Toll

Left Hand, Right Hand: Navigating Broken Systems Behind the Counter — The Staff Struggle and Its Business Toll
Left Hand, Right Hand: A Series on Bridging Customer Experience Gaps in Commerce

Commerce ecosystems of the 2020s (and really, earlier too) presume to handle the bridge between online ordering and in-store execution (or they should, because if they don't you shouldn't be using them) but instead often bear the weight of systemic inefficiencies, leading to significant frustrations for both customers and staff.

Consider the experience of a customer who orders online expecting a swift, hassle-free in-store pickup, only to find upon arrival that the staff cannot locate the order within their internal POS/Inventory system. This scenario is all too common and results in confusion and frustration for the customer and a scramble by the staff to resolve the mix-up.

Another frequent issue arises when the order is visible in the system, but the product itself is missing from the shelves or warehouse. This discrepancy forces staff to waste time tracking down the item, further delaying the customer’s experience. Additionally, situations often occur where an order is registered in the system, but no one in-store or in the warehouse was alerted to prepare it – classic left hand, right hand breakdown. Consequently, the customer arrives expecting a quick pickup, only to face extended wait times because their order remains unready.

The challenges extend to online orders intended for shipping. Customers may face the "phantom order" phenomenon where, upon enquiring about an order that seems stuck in limbo, they discover that customer service can't locate the order in the POS system. This not only leads to service calls marked by frustration but also erodes trust and satisfaction. Inventory mismatches are another significant hurdle; items might be unfindable, already sold out, or inaccurately listed as available online, leading to cancelled orders and disillusioned customers.


This, we call the "phantom order" scenario, which not only sparks immediate customer frustration but also damages long-term trust and satisfaction with the brand


Moreover, orders are sometimes correctly logged but languish unfulfilled as no one was tasked with preparing and dispatching them on time, leading to delayed shipments and customers anxiously waiting beyond expected delivery periods. Adding to these woes are orders that require additional time due to complex supply chain logistics or special preparation needs, which are not communicated at the point of sale. Customers expecting the usual delivery timelines are met with unexpected delays, often discovering this only after the fact, which can significantly sour the customer experience.

Suffice it to say I could go on ad nauseum, outlining scenario after scenario not only straining the relationship between customer and company but also placing in-store staff in the direct line of customer dissatisfaction, through no fault of their own. These systemic issues highlight the critical need for integrated and communicative systems that support both the customer's expectations and the staff's ability to meet them.

Simply put, businesses need to set their team up for successand be serious about it.




The digital ordering process, while offering the convenience of shopping from anywhere, is not without its flaws, which become painfully apparent in the world of commerce. For instance, imagine the frustration of a customer who has ordered a product for home delivery and, upon calling to check the status after a noticeable time lapse, discovers that customer service can't find any record of the order in the internal POS/Inventory system. This, we call the "phantom order" scenario, which not only sparks immediate customer frustration but also damages long-term trust and satisfaction with the brand.

Moreover, even when orders are correctly recognized in the system, they are often hampered by inventory discrepancies – classic left hand, right hand warehouse ERP integration failure. Customers may face situations where products, although listed as available online, cannot be found in the warehouse or are already sold out. This often leads to order cancellations and a disheartening shopping experience, highlighting the disconnect between the online storefront and the physical inventory reality. To this day I still experience this one and it boggles the mind the level and scale of the businesses that fall to this phenomenon.


Simply put, businesses need to set their team up for success – and be serious about it.


Delays in order preparation and dispatch add another layer of complexity. Orders that are visible and accounted for in the system might still end up being delayed because no specific staff member was tasked with their preparation and dispatch. As a result, customers end up waiting much longer than anticipated for their deliveries, which not only strains patience but also impacts their perception of the company’s efficiency.

Additionally, some orders involve complex logistics, such as items requiring multiple warehouse movements, special preparation, or even manufacturing delays, none of which are typically communicated at the time of ordering. Customers expecting standard delivery timelines are often left in the dark until frustrations boil over. This lack of communication regarding extended delivery times can lead to significant dissatisfaction and calls for a more transparent ordering process.

Each scenario reveals critical gaps in the online ordering and fulfillment process, underscoring the need for businesses to improve their digital-to-physical integration. This is essential not only for enhancing customer satisfaction but also for ensuring that the business can reliably meet consumer expectations in an increasingly competitive market.

The complexities of managing a seamless commerce ecosystem that spans from supply chain to customer doorstep involve a myriad of interconnected components – bridging all possible gaps, strategically working towards a unified commerce ecosystem. Each element — from supply chain logistics to warehouse management, ERP systems, and the front-end customer experience — meticulously aligned to ensure consistent and reliable service delivery.


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A high level review of key areas to consider:

Supply Chain Sensitivities: Changes in the supply chain can significantly affect product availability, impacting not only the ability to fulfill new orders but also affecting ongoing customer expectations for existing orders. For instance, a delay in supply can mean that what was once a readily available product is now backordered, altering the promised delivery timelines to customers and necessitating proactive communication from the business to mitigate dissatisfaction.

This could be mitigated by automating an online response to either remove a sku from availability, or changing its messaging to reflect the longer lead time to shipping thereby giving the customer the information they need to decide if this purchase and delivery timing is right for them.

Warehouse and Inventory Dynamics: Real-time inventory management is crucial. For example, a high-volume sale in a physical store might deplete stock levels that were earmarked for online orders. This scenario requires a dynamic system that updates inventory availability across all channels instantly. Without this, online customers may be able to place orders for items that are no longer in stock, leading to frustrating order cancellations and damaged brand trust.

Unified Systems and Real-Time Data: Establishing primary and sometimes secondary "sources of truth" within the business’s operational framework is critical. These sources are the definitive data points for inventory levels, order status, and customer interactions. They need to be clearly defined and mapped out, ensuring that all components of the ecosystem—from ERP systems to point-of-sale—are consistently relaying and validating the physical realities. This continuous loop of information helps maintain accuracy and reduces the chances of discrepancies that lead to customer dissatisfaction.

Systems-to-Staff Accountability: It's not just about having the right technology in place; it's also about ensuring that all levels of staff are informed and equipped to handle the realities of the operational landscape. This means training and empowering employees to understand and manage the tools and data they interact with daily. Failing to achieve high levels of system-to-staff integration and accountability sets a business up for operational friction and staff frustration.

Incorporating these strategic considerations into the planning and operational oversight can significantly elevate a company's ability to manage customer expectations, enhance satisfaction as well as keep staff well-informed and alerted to keep customer satisfaction well tended-to. It establishes a foundation not just for solving today's challenges but for anticipating tomorrow's demands, ensuring that the business is not merely reacting to issues but is proactively managing its entire commerce ecosystem.

Looking at the economic implications of ecosystem inefficiencies and failures, we start to see beyond the frustrations alone,  now the economic fallout. The picture is not pretty. The inefficiencies in the commerce ecosystem do not merely inconvenience customers and frustrate staff; the tangible economic consequences can significantly impact a business's bottom line. Various studies and analyses underscore the cost implications of inefficiencies ranging from lost sales and increased operational costs to negative brand perception, which can deter future customer engagement.

Lost Sales and Revenue Leakage: Discrepancies in inventory management and order fulfillment directly result in lost sales opportunities. When products are not available due to inventory errors or supply chain delays, not only does the immediate sale falter, but the cumulative effect of lost future purchases due to customer churn can escalate. Research has shown that businesses with highly integrated and real-time inventory systems see a reduction in out-of-stock scenarios by up to 25%, directly correlating to increased sales and revenue.

Increased Operational Costs: Inefficiencies lead to higher costs in several areas—additional labour is often required to rectify errors, manage customer complaints, and manually update systems that fail to synchronize automatically. These added costs diminish profitability. For example, a study by the Aberdeen Group notes that companies with optimized supply chains have 15% lower operational costs compared to less efficient competitors.

Brand and Reputation Damage: The long-term impact on a brand’s reputation due to operational inefficiencies cannot be overstated. Negative customer experiences lead to poor reviews and diminished brand loyalty. According to a report by NewVoiceMedia, businesses lose more than $75 billion annually due to poor customer service. Customers who encounter problems with orders are significantly less likely to make a repeat purchase, which not only affects immediate revenue but also reduces lifetime customer value.

Mitigation and Proactive Management: The economic rationale for investing in a seamless and efficient commerce ecosystem is clear. By proactively managing and aligning all components of the supply chain, warehouse logistics, and customer service, businesses can not only prevent revenue loss but also position themselves for greater competitive advantage. Effective integration of technology and training ensures that operations are both cost-efficient and aligned with customer expectations, ultimately leading to improved financial performance and customer retention.