Dude, Where's My Inventory Counter?

So I talked about the incredible lack of customer service that can be found everywhere in today’s world in my last entry.  We have become such a self-service world that no one even knows what customer service is, not to mention GREAT customer service.  Online banking, self check-out lines, internet shopping, drive through ordering, automated phone help, flight check-in kiosks….just about every industry has removed the human element from their equation and replaced it with “automated customer service”.  Even the phone company doesn’t want to talk to you.  You can use their website, the automated service menu, text them, and e-mail them, but if you want to talk to them expect spotty customer service.

Being part of an inventory audit service organization, I feel like customer service is kind of important.  I can remember when I worked in the retail world and worked with the inventory service.  Inventory time rolls around, the service shows up with a team of counters, like  a horde of locust on a tree, count your stuff, and leave.  At least, that’s what I hoped would happen, but there seemed like there were always these lulls that would occur during the counts.  Things would get quiet in the store and the next thing you know all the inventory counters had disappeared.  Soon enough, store management asks, “Dude, where’s my inventory counters?”  Just like the Ashton Kutcher movie, “Dude, Where’s My Car?” you need to re-create the string of events that led to the disappearance of the inventory counters. 

So after scouring the store for a while, we usually found some of the inventory counters clustered outside the store enjoying their cigarette of choice,  some in the store break room sucking down their favorite flavor of caffeine, and some loitering in the store aisles.  But what the heck were they all waiting for?  There was stuff to be counted and we had store personnel standing around waiting for the service to get back to work.  Turns out, these data collectors (really big calculators) that hang off their hips fill up with count data and have to be downloaded every hour or so.  For every 60 minutes a counter is in your store, approximately 10 of those minutes are needed to download data to a laptop before they can continue counting.  That’s a built-in 15 – 17% process inefficiency.  Over a 6 hour count that adds up to 1 full hour of time, per counter, spent downloading data.  That’s a lot of cigarettes, caffeine, and loitering.  So the counters are waiting, your store operations folks are waiting, and we were waiting for area and department reports.  And what happens when the counter is downloaded, caffeinated, and ready to count again – does he remember where he left off in the aisle he was counting?  Are you sure he counted everything in a section?  What if the data collector fills up before they finish a section?   So not only is the process inefficient, but it also introduces the opportunity for inaccuracy.

So how does the retailer avoid this poor level of customer service and align themselves with an inventory service that is more efficient, more accurate and doesn’t waste their time?  The Store Operations group has a vested interest in these counts and they deserve the best possible service during a stressful physical inventory.  There is a solution – its called RF Data Streaming.  That’s fancy- dancy technical jargon that means real-time data collection.  Even simpler, it means that there is data collector equipment out there today that does not require the inventory counter to stop in the middle of a count to download their machine.  The machine is transmitting the data key strokes and scans in real-time to the laptop in the store.  The machine never gets full and the chance of losing your place in the middle of a section count is eliminated!  Finally, a new technology that actually IMPROVES the customer service experience, rather than degrade it.  So what inventory services have this RF (radio frequency) technology?  The short answer, is not many.  Ask your inventory service – “Do your data collection devices operate with RF Data Streaming technology?”  If not, find a service that does! Mitigate your inventory inaccuracies, decrease the time spent during physical counts, save labor dollars, and stop asking, “Dude, where’s my inventory counters?”

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