12 Ways to Improve the Order Accuracy of Your Operation
If you want your order fulfillment operation to be truly successful, then there are few KPIs more important or crucial than order accuracy, which measures the cumulative accuracy of all fulfilled orders that leave your facility, and the reason is clear.
When your orders are inaccurate, your operation is forced to waste time, resources, and capital correcting the order for your customer. Beyond this, low order accuracy can damage the reputation of your order fulfillment operation and lower customer trust, ultimately making it more difficult for you to both retain your existing customers and attract new customers. Customers want to know that when they order something, they’ll get what they need. If they can’t trust you to meet that basic need, then they’ll go elsewhere.
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In short, if your company is in the business of fulfilling orders, then you need to get good at it. This means making sure that your order accuracy (measured as Perfect Order Percentage) hits the mark in terms of customer expectations.
If you’re looking for ways to improve the order accuracy of your operation and reduce costs, this list of actionable tips will help you do just that, boosting your customers’ satisfaction with your business.
How to Improve Order Picking Accuracy
1. Make sure you’re tracking your order accuracy rates.
The first step in improving your order accuracy is to begin tracking the metric if you aren’t already doing so. After all, you can’t improve something if you don’t know where you currently stand.
If you have not been tracking your order accuracy, you should do so for at least a few months to get a sense of where your operation currently stands so that you can understand whether or not improving order accuracy should be a priority.
Generally speaking, the benchmarks below can be used to determine whether or not you should prioritize improving order accuracy or if there may be another area that you can possibly squeeze a larger return out of.
If your order accuracy is:
- Less than 85.7%: There is major room for improvement and you should likely prioritize improving accuracy rates.
- 85.7% to 95%: Your operation is at a competitive disadvantage and stands to gain much from improving rates.
- Between 95% and 98%: Your accuracy rates are typical compared to the competition. Improvements can help your operation stand out but will yield less in terms of direct benefits.
- Higher than 98%: Your order accuracy rates are great, but until you hit that 99.9999% there is opportunity to increase customer satisfaction and profitability.
Still unsure if you should devote resources to improving order accuracy? Keep in mind that a 3% increase in perfect order percentage (of which order accuracy is a component) yields on average a 1% increase in profit.
2. Start by evaluating your picking and packing process.
Before making any changes to your operation, you should first aim to truly understand your order picking and packing process. The goal is to document and resolve any discrepancies or gaps which may force otherwise diligent workers to make errors in order to do their job.
We recommend that this be accomplished by interviewing your workers about the ways in which they complete the tasks assigned to them—everyone from your temp workers to your full-time operators, managers, directors, and even the VP of Operations. You would be amazed as to how many times processes call for one step, but your workers do something else entirely because they are aware that the processes are broken, ineffective, missing, or out of order.
By having these candid conversations, you can likely create a list of issues to resolve that may be able to quickly boost your accuracy rates.
3. Post individual and/or group error rates.
If after measuring your accuracy rates you discover that there is some major room for improvement, consider posting error rates and throughput rates for your employees to see.
For example, you can post individual or group error rates so that poorly-performing groups or individuals know how they stack up against their coworkers and feel a pressure to improve. Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the list, so this alone can be incentive enough for many employees. Typically, you can generate this report simply using your WES, WMS, or WCS; you can post rates anonymously or using ID numbers if you are concerned about hurting morale.
Alternatively, you can post employee throughput levels. People like to be the best at what they do and they obtain even greater satisfaction by being the best. Showing real time picking rates certainly helps foster competition and sets the bar so others know what they should be achieving.
Posting errors and picking rates can also foster good proctoring practices if it’s built into your culture. Allow the individual who is setting the bar to teach and tutor those who “don’t get it.” The outcome is often a great win-win scenario for everyone.
4. Incentivize employees to improve rates.
Beyond simply posting rates, consider finding ways to incentivize employees to improve their rates. While it would be great if employment in and of itself was incentive enough, the simple truth is that many employees can and do perform better when other incentives are offered.
Some operations find that directly offering bonuses to employees who hit improvement targets. These bonuses could be financial in nature—say, an actual check—or something like a company event or earned vacation days. Even just a friendly competition and a $25 gift card to a local restaurant can be enough to drive real improvements, as employees police themselves in order to improve rates.
5. Weigh everything.
Weighing your orders is a relatively easy way to quickly check the accuracy of your orders. Modern order fulfillment software can tell you what an order should weight based upon the components making up that order.
By pairing your existing software with a weigh scale in order to verify each of your orders before shipping, you can be certain that all of your orders are accurate.
Even if you only verify half of your orders by weight, you are decreasing the volume and burden on your checkers and quality control associates—all with very little effort and for relatively minor cost. It’s for this reason that we build this process into almost every system we design and implement.
6. Automate document insertion.
Many order fulfillment operations have employees whose sole role is to insert documents—from coupons to flyers to catalogs, instructions, manifests, etc.—into each order. And they do this manually. As with any repetitive task like this one, it’s easy to get mixed up and occasionally insert the wrong documentation into the wrong order, causing confusion internally as well as once the order reaches the customer.
Automating the low-value task of document insertion using an automated document printer and inserter system or a portable document inserter not only improves your order accuracy rates—it also frees up personnel to perform more valuable tasks for your operation.
7. Consider pick-to-light or pick-to-voice systems.
Many order fulfillment operations are still using some version of paper-and-pencil lists for order picking and processing, where employees carry a physical list with them as they pick their orders. While this can work for smaller operations, larger operations often find that the paper-and-pencil method leads to less accurate orders and is generally less efficient than other systems.
Pick-to-light, pick-to-voice, and RFID-scanning systems, for example, are alternatives that could improve your order accuracy rates. It’s been shown in a number of studies that when operations upgrade their pick/inventory systems from paper-and-pencil to a more integrated form of order processing, they enjoy on average a 25% gain in overall productivity, and they can reduce picking error rates by a whopping 67%.
Pairing these methods with goods-to-person technologies (carousels, vertical lift modules, shuttles, etc.) can increase accuracy rates even further and drive ROI at a substantial rate.
8. Embrace a smarter slotting strategy.
Slotting, the process of organizing the inventory within your warehouse or operation so that items are stored thoughtfully based on a number of factors, can provide great benefits in the form of increasing throughput and providing increased accuracy levels. You may, for example, slot items by their velocity, physical size, product affinity, etc.—whatever makes sense for your particular operation.
Slotting increases your accuracy by eliminating operator walk and search time searching for SKUs in distant parts of your warehouse.
9. Visually scan your orders for accuracy.
Visual verification of orders relies on cameras and sensors to look inside totes or boxes of scanned items in order to identify each SKU that is present. This technology is particularly helpful in operations that pick to sorters or conveyors.
Orders that are verified are routed by conveyor for packaging and shipping; those that are questionable are routed to quality checkers for manual verification. This allows your checkers to review far fewer orders (requiring far less labor), but positively impacting the overall accuracy levels dramatically for each error found.
10. Simplify your pick lists.
If you have no intention of converting your pick system into a pick-to-light or pick-to-voice system, you can still reduce error rates and improve order accuracy by simplifying your pick lists. (This is particularly important in split-case picking, or in operations that handle both split-case and full-case orders.)
Ask your employees if there are ever any parts of pick lists that cause confusion as they fulfill an order, and do what you can to remove any confusion that manifests. This alone can have major impacts on your ability to effectively do business.
11. Add a Warehouse Execution System (WES) to the mix.
Augmenting your warehouse management system (WMS) and or warehouse control system (WCS) by adding a WES can also drive improved order accuracy by helping you manage your pick operation.
A WES will orchestrate your different zones to enable them to work more cohesively, reducing the peaks and valleys in productivity you likely experience each day and keep different zones working at equal levels.
12. Turn to automation.
Depending on the size of your operation, you may find that automating or optimizing various other processes will have either a direct or indirect impact on your order accuracy rates.
Technologies like sorters, AS/RS, AMRs, and goods-to-person solutions (mentioned above) can help reduce fatigue and sharpen focus by reducing the amount of time that your employees spend walking from location to location to pick orders. Similarly, by optimizing your slotting strategy and inventory system, you can ensure that everything is exactly where it needs to be, which makes the process of picking much simpler.
The Bottom Line
Improving the accuracy of your order fulfillment operation is one of the most crucial steps involved in bringing your business to the next level. By better meeting the needs of your customers, you’ll be able to retain existing business and expand responsibly, making your operation more successful and, ultimately, more profitable.
Not sure where to start when it comes to improving accuracy? A trusted systems integrator can help you understand what systems and technology you can put in place to reduce error rates and hit your benchmarks.
- Romaine has spent over 30 years involved with organizations looking to optimize their distribution, manufacturing, and warehousing operations. Focusing on the customer’s processes, automation and business model, Romaine has helped dozens of organizations improve profitability by reducing labor, floor space, errors and inventory while improving accuracy, inventory turns and cut-off times.
Within the industry trade association, MHI, Romaine has taken numerous leadership positions including: Chairman of the Automated Storage & Retrieval (AS/RS) Group, Chairman of the Order Fulfillment Council of America, Chairman of the Warehouse Execution Systems Group and was one of the originators of the Carousel and VLM Product Section Group. He has also spearheaded the efforts to create the first ANSI industry safety standards for horizontal carousels.
Romaine is a frequent editorial and information contributor to hundreds of publications, blogs and online publications and has been a speaker at dozens of Supply Chain, Logistics, Lean and Facility organizations and functions. Just a few include the Parcel Forum, Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE), Promat, North American Material Handling, Modex, National Mfg Week, Southern California Plant Operations, NJ Material Handling Assoc., Applied Ergonomics, Warehousing Education & Research Council (WERC), Lean Manufacturing Conference, Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), NeoCon, Health Information Distribution Association (HIDA), National Catalog & Operations (NCOF), CSCMP and more.
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