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You Might Have a Bad Warehouse If…The Returns Are Beeping at You

By Kate Vitasek | 02/20/2012 | 5:00 AM

This week’s bad warehouse blog is an oldie but goodie that dates to the days, circa mid-90s, when pagers were all the rage. While the story may be old, it has lessons that apply today to the proper handling of returns, customer service and reverse logistics procedures in the warehouse.

Pager

A telephone company had started selling pagers to retailers. When customers had problems with their pagers and called the company, they were asked to mail the pager back to the repair center in a box. The flaw?  The telephone company – while it had a repair facility – did not have a returns process. It was used to leasing out its equipment as part of the phone bill.

When boxes started to arrive, the receiving department didn’t know what to do so they stuck all the returned boxes at the back of warehouse room. Eventually the site was filled with hundreds of boxes of customer returns.

Here’s the funny thing, and I don’t mean funny ha-ha. If you remember the pager era you might also remember that a quirky thing about them was that when a pager’s battery was going dead – it would beep. That meant that in this room filled with hundreds of boxes of returned pagers the beeps began – lots of beeps. A pager beep every three seconds or so, and there was literally no way to tell which box it was coming from!

The sad thing?  Yours truly was stuck managing a team of workers to sort through and clear through all the returns. Maybe that’s what called paying your dues but the beeping nearly drove us crazy. But actually the really sad thing was reading the customer letters in the boxes, some which had been sitting there for more than nine months!

The company obviously was at fault for not thinking and planning through the implications of the pager craze – like the returns and customer service issues that would naturally occur. Today, this would never happen in a best practice warehouse, one where sophisticated WMS and RMA (return to manufacturer) processes are in place to handle the returns side of a client’s business.

“Timely and accurate receiving transactions are critical,” the WERC Best Practices Guide says. “Incomplete or erroneous transactions cause inventory control issues and delay the movement of materials.”

Companies that have good to best practice operations “process all transactions in real time or at minimum the same day, making material available for use as a soon as possible.” This applies to returns and reverse logistics transactions as well. That way the beeps won’t drive you crazy and your customers won’t fall away.

I really love your feedback - and love your contributions to share those bad warehouse stories to help educate the profession on what NOT to do, and maybe what to do if you’re not doing it.

If you've got an example of a bad warehouse practice, send me your story and photo(s) to Kate@scvisions.com. If I feature your example in one of my blogs, WERC will send you a free copy of the WERC Warehousing & Fulfillment Process Benchmark & Best Practices Guide (a $160 value).

Your submission can be anonymous if you like so you don't get your boss or company in trouble! I'll be collecting examples all year and the winner will receive a free WERC Warehouse Certification Assessment by Supply Chain Visions, a $10,000 value. The runner up will win a free conference registration to the WERC conference (a $1,375 value).”

 

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About Kate Vitasek

Kate Vitasek

Kate Vitasek is a nationally recognized innovator in the practice of supply chain management. Vitasek is founder of Supply Chain Visions—a boutique consulting firm specializing in supply chain management. She is also a faculty member at the University of Tennessee's Center for Executive Education. A prolific writer, Vitasek has authored the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' best-selling mini-book series, Supply Chain Process Standards, and has contributed to other management books as well. Along with Karl Manrodt of Georgia Southern University, she co-leads WERC's popular annual benchmarking study.



About Steve Murray

Steve Murray

Steve Murray is a Principal Consultant and Chief of Research for Supply Chain Visions, a boutique consulting firm specializing in supply chain management. Prior to joining Supply Chain Visions he held a variety of functional and management roles in the distribution and manufacturing sectors, including 15 year managing an IT consulting firm. Steve has been instrumental in development of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professional's "Supply Chain Management Process Standards", the Warehousing Education and Research Council's Warehousing & Fulfillment Process Benchmarking & Best Practice Guide" and the WERC "Warehouse Certification Program". He is lead auditor for the WERC's Certification Program.



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