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In-Depth 3PL Customer Service Guide

In the eCommerce fulfillment industry, there are a plethora of fulfillment options for companies of all shapes and sizes. In the US alone, there are thousands of fulfillment centers that specialize in all types of products. Brands focused on Amazon have success with Amazon FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon). For brands selling on their own site, you can fulfill in-house or utilize a 3PL (Third-Party Logistics) company that provides a range of storage and fulfillment services.

Although the best fulfillment center for you will depend heavily on your needs, one aspect that is crucial to success in what is arguably one of the most important steps of your customer’s experience with your brand is your 3PL’s customer service. Yet, amidst the fulfillment rat race of venture capital, acquisitions, and the growing list of 4PLs, most fulfillment companies still fall short in the customer service department. And for most, you will never be able to talk to anyone directly in the warehouse who handles your product.

Why does 3PL customer service matter?

You may ask, why does fulfillment customer service matter if you are outsourcing to a 3PL? Picture this. There’s an issue with your store’s integration to the 3PL’s software, so suddenly, none of your orders are syncing. You reach out to your 3PL for help and it takes 24 hours just to get a response saying they’ll look into it. A day goes by… two days go by… so you follow up again.

At this point, your customers are wondering why their packages haven’t shipped. Your customer service rep finally gets back to you and says they have assigned it to the correct team and they are working on it. You then go back and forth a few more times as they ask for more information. Finally, over a week later, your issue is resolved. In that time, you’ve had multiple customers cancel orders and a few bad reviews. So, not only have you wasted hours of your time pulling teeth to get the integration fixed, but you’ve lost money on orders and hurt your brand image.

Order fulfillment requires personalized support

This is just one scenario. There are a million other small reasons why you may need same-day responses from support. It’s like insurance. You don’t need it every day, but when you do, you’re thankful you have it. And if you’ve run fulfillment in-house before, you know how crucial it is to be able to reach your warehouse team directly.

Order fulfillment is the final touchpoint between your product and your customer. You want to give them a great experience, so it is essential your fulfillment provider has in-house level customer service to keep you running smoothly. Unfortunately, as we mentioned above, when you have an issue, your only point of contact is usually a single account representative.

How Customer Service Works with Traditional 3PLs

Account representatives are supposed to be dedicated to your account. What they don’t tell you is that your account representatives have never been in the warehouse, have no idea what your product looks like, and have 100 other clients they are “dedicated” to. In addition to high workloads, customer support workers have an incredibly high turnover rate, so you may often be placed with a brand new representative who has to relearn your needs all over again.

You’ll most likely communicate with them via email and first responses take on average around 28.4 hours. If you have a simple question, you may get the answer you need in one email, but that is not often the case. In fact, only 69% of tickets are solved on the first response. This means that almost one-third of tickets are going to need additional work. Second, third, and fourth responses require additional time, effort, and resources which means it will likely be longer between responses. Ultimately this means more of your time and money is being spent on corresponding with your rep to fix an issue that probably would take 30 minutes to solve if given the proper attention.

Why do responses take so long you ask? Well, the account representative is usually only capable of answering basic questions for you. If it gets any more complicated (imagine your Shopify inventory shows out stock because it is not syncing with your 3PL’s software), or requires a response from the warehouse, a support ticket is created.

Support Ticket Portals

We like to call support ticket portals “black holes” because it seems like they get submitted and you never get a timely resolution. Support agents receive these tickets when they are submitted and triage them to the correct resources depending on the issue. Most support portals are run by outsourced companies in other countries. Although this lowers the cost of customer service for the 3PL, there is often a language barrier or a fundamental lack of understanding of your specific needs. This in turn results in a painful experience wasting time (and $) going back and forth to clarify what would otherwise be a simple issue. The sad part is 3PLs know how to improve customer service in commerce. They simply have to invest more into customer service, but it costs money, so they don't. A fulfillment center's clients should be their number one priority, not their budget, right?

How OTW Shipping Offers True Customer Support

So what is the solution then? We like to call it true customer support. A true customer support system focuses on the customer first by ensuring quick and efficient responses and resolutions. This is possible by avoiding two things.

The first: context-setting. Context-setting refers to those first couple generic questions a support agent will ask you that someone familiar with your business would already know. With OTW Shipping, whether it is your personal technical support agent, a member of your warehouse team, or your account representative, you will always be talking with someone who is familiar with your product and integrations. We ensure the individuals assigned to your team all know your product inside and out.

The second: triaging. Customer support tickets are usually managed by a queue manager who will direct the ticket to the correct location. Well, that’s the idea at least. It may take several hours just for a ticket to get sent to a department, and as many of us know, it is often not the right department. Rather than send all your concerns to one place just to wait to get sent somewhere completely different, why not have the ability to direct your question to the right place yourself?

A Quick Example

For an eCommerce store, your concerns are either general (how can I add a new SKU), technical (why won't my inventory sync), or operational (did our shipment arrive today). At OTW Shipping we assign you to a team member from each of those areas who have an intimate understanding of your brand’s specific needs to solve the issues you’re facing in a much more efficient way. Instead of directing all your communications through one account rep or a support portal, you can communicate directly with our warehouse for operational assistance, your support rep for technical solutions, and your account rep for anything else. This allows you to skip the queue and get right to the heart of the issue so you can obtain solutions in 1 or 2 responses instead of 4.

When would this actually make a difference?

Let’s say your supplier has accidentally barcoded a SKU incorrectly. You notice this issue when you start to receive complaints that the wrong product has been shipped. You check the images sent by your customers and realize that the barcode is for a different product.

How a normal 3PL would handle it

With your standard 3PL relationships, you reach out to your account rep and ask them to inspect the inventory to find the incorrectly labeled units and relabel them. They may take anywhere from 15 minutes to 48 hours to respond. They might need some more information. This will take another few hours at a minimum to provide. Then they have to get in touch with the warehouse and provide them with same the information. Finally, after 3+ days, your inventory is pulled and relabeled.

In the meantime, you’ve spent the past couple of days monitoring your account constantly to manually put every order that comes through on hold so the orders did not get fulfilled with the incorrect product. Sure, the problem gets solved. But you just wasted an incredible amount of time and energy you could have spent growing your business on something that could have been solved in minutes if you had a more competent 3PL partner. Moreover, your customers had to wait almost a week for their orders to ship so you’ve got some customer complaints to manage! At this point, it’s unlikely most of them will reorder, and you may even get some negative reviews to boot.

How OTW Shipping handles it

If OTW Shipping were your partner, this situation would look much different. Once you realized your inventory was barcoded incorrectly, all you would do is tag your assigned warehouse team member in your dedicated communication channel. Within an hour, your inventory would be pulled off the line, and by the end of the day, it would be correctly barcoded and ready to go. Simply being able to speak directly with someone who can solve your problem would save you 3 days of stress and leave your customers happy with on-time delivery.

The emphasis on direct communication and transparency ultimately means less time and capital wasted for both your team and our team. With a true partner like OTW Shipping, now you can focus on doing what you do best: your product. And we can focus on doing what we do best: getting it to your customers quickly and accurately.


If you're browsing 3PLs and have questions about fulfillment services, contact our team of experts at OTW Shipping and we can walk you through anything you may need.

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