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April 1, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 1:17pm

How to invest in voice-enabled technology

Darrel Williams, EMEA regional director of voice technology solutions provider, Vocollect, teams up with CBR to give his five top tips to help retailers cope with the demands of ‘click and collect’ with the use of voice-enabled technology.

By Duncan Macrae

In a new survey by Accenture, half of those polled said that they now expect to be able to buy online and pick up their purchase in a traditional store.

Already stretchedby next-day deliveries and other consumer incentives, the online retailer now has to develop and implement new processes that interact with a store’s traditional operationto offer what is fast becoming a standard and expected list of shopper options.

The survey also identifies that 40% of retailers ‘are having difficulty’, integrating back-office technology across all of their channels. It’s clear then thatthese challenges must be overcome by retailers if ‘click and collect’ and other critical shopper experiences are to deliver a consumer utopia.

Yet we could arguethat thefight for business growth and customer loyalty beginsnot in the back office but in the warehouse or distribution centre. Those who achieve accuracy, speed and flexibility here have a massive advantageover the competition. This is why many retailer organisationsnow regardthissector of their business as the top priority for investment.

Traditionally a place of high cost (Inventory, Labour and Space) and low tech, the warehousing function is now the focus of the best minds and the smart money. Any improvement here impacts every single product and every single sale – potentially influencing every single consumer.

As such investment in warehouse management systems and IT infrastructure must be considered as a fully integrated solution – not just with other systems but with the very people who work in this area. Connecting business systems seamlessly with warehouse operatives delivers a huge additional boost on the effectiveness of those systems, and Voice Technology has repeatedly proved to deliver the quantifiable improvement in performance whilst satisfying the (human) needs of the workers. This technology enables warehouse operatives to work hands-and eyes-free, enabling them to concentrate fully on current tasks.

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However, after realising the financial and operational benefits of ‘Picking by Voice’ it is imperative that you recognise Voice Technology as the disruptive technology that it can be – a real game changer!
Here are five tips to help optimise investment in these systems and, as a result, improve customer service, nurture loyalty and show a return on financial investment in months rather than years…

1. See voice for order-picking as just the starting point.

Voice-directed technology is ideal for manually intensive tasks such as order-processing. But it can be equally effective throughout a warehouse or distribution centre for jobs such as cycle-counting, receiving and loading (using vehicle-mounted terminals or desktop PC’s together with wireless headsets), put-away replenishment and put-to-store.

The real value comes not just in voice technology’s ability to improve isolated tasks, but in its capacity to transform the overall operating efficiency of the warehouse. Interleaving of tasks with Voice allows the business need to drive the physical process, not the technology for technology sake. Some distribution centres migrate all workflows from paper to voice straight away, others are more cautious and start with voice for picking. Once they realise the benefits they quickly transition voice to further workflows.

2. Eliminate restrictive work patterns to provide the flexibility to deal with unpredictable demand.

Voice means training times are dramatically reduced and workers can, for example, manage receiving tasks in the morning, order pick through the day and finish up replenishing or loading, all supported by the same simple, intuitive voice-directed user interface without the need for additional training. This is an efficient and highly productive approach to carrying out these warehouse tasks and ultimately makes it easier to fulfil next-day and late-night pledges (a key element of click and collect).

3. Use the real-time management information

Use the real-time management information delivered by voice technology to manage resources more effectively and to plan shifts and other requirements without the need to build in spare capacity. Typical Voice users report a significant reduction in the need for temporary and agency staff.


4. Make accuracy your byword throughout the operation, not just in the picking area.

Voice picking can easily reduce errors to less than 0.1%, as well as improve productivity by over 35%. But voice-enabling a bad process will not deliver the savings you may expect. Likewise fixing a single process (picking?) will simply move the logistics problem somewhere else, be it upstream to receiving or replenishment, or downstream to pack and despatch.

It’s necessary to assess the whole process flow to determine which areas will be improved by Voiceand today more than 80% of new customers look to implement multiple processes to optimise their operations.

5. Invest in the best technology available.

Seamless integration of the best technology delivers the best results. So choose a solution with an industrial voice recogniser that will understand any user, in any language or dialect, the first time, every time

The latest headsets that deliver superior voice recognition and reduce ambient noise have been shown to help workers achieve even greater accuracy. And, when a 1% increase in recognition can save a company £2,000 per user per year, there really is no choice.

Finally look for provensystems where all the components are designed to work together, rather than repurposing multiple disparate components. A no compromise integrated approach pays for itself in months and will deliver flexible faultless performance for many years to come.

For consumers, click and collect providesan extension to the convenience of online shopping without the major drawback – the need to be at home for a delivery. Likewise, it offers a great opportunity for those retail organisations who recognise and embrace the need to satisfy today and tomorrow, consumer led demand, by becoming more effective in the core activities of their business. So, to avoid extending current logistics operations beyond breaking point, and to be ready to embrace the next demand for diversity, retailers need to creatively look at the way they work today and ensure the technology decisions they make result in an integrated and flexible platform to make an uncertain future certain.


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