Why 3D Printing Businesses Should Automate Their Request & Order Management Processes13 January 2021
In our previous article, we explored how you and your customers can benefit from instant quotation software (hint: by boosting your sales and improving customer experience).
However, many 3D printing businesses sometimes still want their customers to submit requests for their team to review and price internally.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the challenges 3D printing companies may face at this stage and solutions that will help them manage requests and orders more efficiently.
How can managing requests become a bottleneck for your 3D printing business?
We’ve identified five common challenges 3D printing service providers face when managing 3D printing requests and orders.
1. A disorganised process for receiving requests
Processing, prioritising and tracking incoming 3D printing requests take a lot of effort, especially when they’re coming at you from different channels like emails and phone calls.
When customers send their design files as attachments via email, along with notes on their requirements, managing this deluge of requests can be extremely time-consuming and difficult to sustain as your company grows.
This process becomes even more complicated when the important information about the request is missing or the incorrect file type is sent. In this situation, your team has to spend a lot of time emailing a customer back to get the right specifications and wait for them to confirm or clarify their requirements.
From the customers’ point of view, these back and forth emails are distracting and impact their overall experience with your business.
2. Inability to process more orders, faster
Manual processes are a black hole for productivity and faster order processing.
When you receive CAD files, your project managers first need to verify the customer files are printable. This process often involves the use of a separate STL file repair tool, where you need to manually upload files and repair them.
Once files are repaired, you input the request data into Excel or Google Sheets to calculate costs and then communicate this information back to customers.
Repeating this process for just a few requests may not seem like a major pain point. However, if you’re trying to deal with considerably more requests, such a common scenario quickly becomes highly inefficient, error-prone and unscalable.
As a result, you’ll find yourself in a bottleneck of not being able to process more requests. You may decide you hire more people to manage the increase. This, however, will likely hamper business growth and create a lot of overworked, stressed-out employees.
3. It takes a lot of time to calculate the costs of 3D-printed parts and send quotes to customers
Customers value responsiveness and speed when it comes to obtaining information like cost estimates. However, manual quoting processes eat a lot of your team’s time, while your customers are forced to wait hours or even days before they receive a 3D printing quote.
Instant or near-instant 3D printing quotes and real-time order tracking is now a core capability for driving value in the 3D printing business. If companies can’t offer this service, they may find their conversions and customer loyalty are negatively impacted.
4. A lack of a centralised, real-time view of requests and orders
At every manual touchpoint in request and order processing, you lose the transparency you need for effective management of a 3D printing business.
Without visibility, you can’t answer basic questions about an order without having to hunt down the right information. When was the order placed? What was the invoice amount? When did it ship?
Too much information stored in too many places also leads to the inability to identify and prioritise urgent orders.
Companies are unable to address and respond to top customer needs and fluctuating order volumes and, therefore, cannot ship orders quickly or be more proactive, losing a significant competitive edge.
5. Customer dissatisfaction
A key area for 3D printing businesses is understanding your customer and managing that customer’s demands effectively. Accurately capturing your customer’s requests and orders is critical to effective order fulfilment.
To meet mounting customer expectations, you need to increase your on-time deliveries and enhance the consistency and accuracy of your promises to customers.
With manual processes, you can’t accurately promise dates based on fulfilment planning lead times and estimates. Additionally, long response times to customer inquiries and failing to connect with your customers can lead to reduced customer confidence and loss of repeat business.
Why should I automate my request and order management process?
If the challenges above sound familiar, you’ll need to get smarter about how you manage your incoming 3D printing requests.
This is where 3D printing workflow automation software can help.
Overcoming inefficiencies at the request management stage frequently comes from automating as much of the process as you can.
To help you better understand the benefits of using workflow software, below we explore how it can help you automate the particularities of your request and order management process.
5 key ways to use 3D printing workflow software to improve request management
1. Centralised order tracking for improved visibility
One of the biggest benefits of using a workflow management software is the increased level of visibility and organisation that comes from it.
When all your requests are coming in one place, instead of scattered through emails, sticky notes, or spreadsheets, nothing is lost or forgotten.
A single view of all 3D printing requests projects also results in greater data control, better customer service, and more efficient order processing.
“The project and production teams are now able to use their time more effectively, with the time spent on generating quotations and processing files significantly reduced. This means that the Paragon team is able to provide enhanced customer service to its customers, whilst continuing to deliver the quickest possible turnaround times.”
Read the Paragon case study >>
2. Streamlined 3D printing cost calculations
3D printing workflow software helps you speed up internal cost calculations and send quotes to customers faster.
You can set up your pricing formulae and easily calculate prices based on the selected parameters, like 3D printing technology, materials, quantity, production time, as well as post-processing services.
Plus, advanced workflow automation software also offers integrated file analysis and repair tools. This means that the process of verifying that CAD files are suitable for 3D printing is fully automated, saving time and efforts.
With much of the 3D printing cost calculation workflow automated, your team can quote parts in minutes, as opposed to hours, processing more requests and responding to customers faster.
3. More efficient communication with customers
Another way to speed up customer responsiveness through workflow software is automated communication with the help of templates.
The software enables you to build a customised library of PDF templates and set up triggers for automated emails to customers.
One example of using this feature is by linking order status to an email template. Once the order status changes – for example, when the order is confirmed for production – it triggers an automated email to a customer, informing them on this status.
“Our improved efficiency [with the help of AMFG] means that we can also provide an enhanced, tailored service to customers who have more complex projects, or where they require additional downstream services. It’s a win, win!”
Rupert Sleightholme, Projects Manager at ARRK Europe
The simple act of using an email template can significantly improve your customer communication process.
First, it enables your team to spend more time on actual 3D printing work and less time on tedious back and forth.
Second, email templates help you to stay consistent. Customisable templates give you a way to build your brand right into the template itself, including your colours, logo and language.
Finally, email templates help you remove a significant chunk of human error and the risk of sending incorrect messages with potentially significant consequences.
In addition to using templates, some workflow automation tools allow you to write and send emails through the platform. This helps to centralise messaging and keep track of the email threads more easily.
4. Prioritisation of 3D printing requests
Some 3D printing workflow management software allows you to prioritise requests, which can be very beneficial. For example, you may want to ensure that your best customer is always kept happy by processing their requests first.
AMFG’s workflow software, for example, makes it possible to assign requests to different users and set priority levels, making it easier to prioritise urgent requests and fast-approaching deadlines.
Request prioritisation also helps the team work more efficiently because they aren’t going back and forth between inboxes, trying to decide what to do next.
5. Collaboration within the team
In addition to workflow management benefits we talked above, 3D printing workflow automation solutions can improve team collaboration.
Integrated communication tools enable your team to add meeting notes, production notes and annotations to parts, keeping all the necessary information in one place and updated in real time.
So for example, when a customer has any specific requirements like colour, material or part orientation, a project manager can add notes to parts.
Then these notes can be shared with production engineers, allowing them to receive relevant and timely data about the parts. This, ultimately, helps to ensure that the parts are 3D-printed to the right specifications.
Communicating with the team through the workflow software helps you keep everyone in the loop. This way, you not only stay aligned with the team but also reduce re-work and create a focus on continuous and fast-paced delivery of high-quality parts.
Drive automation in request and order management with AMFG’s MES software
Put together, all these benefits can overhaul your 3D printing request and order management processes massively.
Without the benefits of workflow automation software, 3D printing businesses will struggle to overcome the limitations of fragmented and manual steps when managing requests.
AMFG’s MES software helps to automate request-related processes, and much more, so you can accelerate order fulfilment and provide your customers with the best service they deserve.
Experience all the benefits of workflow automation and improve 3D printing request stage with AMFG
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