How Gooten is Working Towards a Better Partner Experience During COVID-19
by Gooten Editorial Team on Jun. 01, 2020
In early March, we were bracing for impact when the pandemic hit and the world was starting to quarantine due to COVID-19. It was an unsure, scary time (and still is), and like thousands of businesses, we weren't sure how this crisis was going to impact Gooten and our partners. We felt all we could truly do was prepare for the worst, which at the time, was order volumes falling as consumer demand flattened. We knew we needed to update our partners as new information became available and shift our priorities as we learned more.
The "worst" — to us, at that time — did not necessarily look like an influx of orders larger than any we’ve experienced in a single month in Gooten’s history. We had anticipated a decline in order volume, but what happened instead was a meteoric rise not just in our orders, but in on-demand production across the industry. Suddenly, we were sending more orders than we ever had before to our network of manufacturing partners who were now operating with skeleton crews due to new health and safety standards enforcing social distancing.
Within a few short weeks, on-demand manufacturing across the world became completely inundated with order volume, and we saw the same with shipping carriers and raw material suppliers. The entire eCommerce supply chain had experienced a dramatic and rapid shift that even companies like Amazon weren’t ready for.
If you’ve ordered online in the past several months, you likely experienced delays yourself - major retailers across the world were struggling to maintain the same quick processing & shipping times that customers had grown to expect. And the same was true within the Gooten production network.
To give you some additional context, our production partners require Gooten to provide them with sales forecasts so they can estimate staffing and production times on a quarterly basis. We then send a report forecasted by product (and sometimes SKU) based on historical growth, trends, and known new business — we also add a buffer on top of that for unexpected sales campaigns or spikes from our partners’ businesses. But even with that buffer, in April and May, we exceeded our sales forecast by more than 3-4x across nearly every product category, with EVERY production partner.
In a pre-pandemic world, this increase alone would cause delays, but add in the fact that manufacturers now have to — and rightfully should — reduce their staff, vigorously clean equipment & work areas often, and maintain appropriate social distancing protocol, and you can imagine it creates a perfect storm of disordered production. Not only that, but we’ve also seen a reduction in raw materials and shipping delays nearly everywhere.
This caused disruptions left and right — from production times increasing to numbers we had never seen before in any holiday season, to partners reporting their customers receiving completely wrong orders, to customers not receiving orders altogether.
In addition to these production and shipping issues, we've noticed some older orders have been taking longer to produce than newer orders. Some production facilities have experienced technical issues in their order processing that unfortunately pushed newer orders ahead of older ones — a problem that, at first, went unnoticed in attempting to catch up with the backlog.
In other cases, it may appear that newer orders are shipping out sooner than older orders as a result of the quality control test process. When a product does not make it through a quality control screening, it has to be reproduced from the start, lengthening the overall production time and making it appear as though newer orders have jumped the line.
It’s also is important to note that, in general, production time varies across all product categories. For instance, Minky Blankets can be produced more quickly than Baby Swaddles, so even if an order for Baby Swaddles is placed before an order for Minky Blankets, it’s highly possible that the Minky Blanket order will be produced and shipped first.
Unfortunately and understandably, when this surge of orders went out, a wave of support tickets came flooding in. Our customer support team — typically able to respond to tickets within 24-48 hours — now had 4x the normal amount of tickets to respond to and a constant flow of new tickets coming in daily.
We were severely struggling to keep up with our partners’ requests for help, and for far too many, that revealed itself in massive delays in customer response times. Though our entire company was working with our manufacturing partners to understand production delays, prioritize orders spending longer in production, and jumping in to answer as many support tickets as possible, our partners were left in the dark without timely communication.
With all this being said, we cannot change the fact that our partners have not had the Gooten experience over the last two months that they come to expect and rely on. We understand that this has, in turn, affected your customers and ultimately your businesses, which for many of you is your livelihood. For this, we cannot apologize enough, and we make a commitment to you today that we are fully dedicated to regaining and improving upon the Gooten experience in this new environment. To do this, we want to be transparent about where we are now and where we are headed.
While our customer support team is still experiencing a 2-3 business day average response time on support tickets, we have already taken measures to help shorten this timeframe. We’ve brought in a strategic leader for our Partner Support team with 15+ years of industry experience and increased agent team headcount by 50% to support the customer support team.
We’ve invested in a support platform that can scale as partner requests increase and support the complexity of a growing team, as well as redefined our partner support operating model to ensure we start to meet our partner commitments.
We’ve listened to you and learned from the thousands of support requests over the last few weeks in order to understand where we can best support our partners and invest in resources.
Adding Capacity through New Production Partners
We've conducted a thorough vetting process for bringing additional manufacturing partners and are in the process of integrating new facilities into our system that can help pick up order volumes and aid in getting turnaround times back to normal.
Expanding Capacity at Existing Facilities
In addition to bringing on new production partners, we’ve also worked with the manufacturers already in the Gooten network to bring in new equipment so they can scale up quickly. For example, our apparel production partners have added 20+ new printers, as well as a third shift to cover 24 hours a day, 7-days a week production schedule.
Production partners specializing in home decor & wall art have expanded into three additional facilities, added 400+ production staff, and invested $100,000+ in new equipment to establish Gooten-dedicated production lines to guarantee us daily capacity.
Our operations team has ramped up efforts to create even more redundancies in the manufacturing network. This simply means that a large amount of our product SKUs are available in more than one facility, therefore orders of that product are able to be fulfilled in multiple locations.
Daily Communication with Production Partners
We meet with our top manufacturers on a daily basis to talk with their production heads about how they're implementing plans to scale up and support this volume increase on an ongoing basis. It's going to get better — we’re confident in that — but it's unfortunately not a switch that we can flip overnight.
Luckily, most manufacturers are now back to pre-COVID-19 staffing numbers or higher, but they have such a significant backlog to get through that it's still going to take some time for order turnaround times to normalize.
Each week you will see improvements in our customer support response times as our new team comes on board and as we continue to invest in both people and technology that will allow our partner support team to handle even large spikes in activity with agility. We are improving our workflows for reprinting and replacing orders to make that process more efficient, and we are addressing tracking numbers that aren’t showing up accurately to make sure you are receiving the most up-to-date information on where your order is in the journey to its destination.
We are also improving our intake process of customer support tickets to make it easy for you to reach out to customer support and for our customer support team to get back to you sooner — we will provide more information on this in the coming weeks.
As for production, we will continue in our efforts to get our production partners back to a sense of normalcy and increase transparency across the board by communicating more often and more effectively the current state of things and how you and your customers might be affected.
We have, and will continue to, send daily lists of orders in our system that we are asking our manufacturers to prioritize, in order to take care of the discrepancy many of you have noticed of newer orders being produced before older orders in some cases.
Production partners are continuing to add more equipment, more employees, and more shifts in order to clear their backlog of orders still in the system, and we will continue our daily communication with them in order to stay on top of backlogged orders in production longer than normal.
Better Communication with Gooten Partners
Our new Customer Support Times Table with a snapshot of customer support response times and Current Production Times Table with an overview of production times for our most popular product categories are just two examples of how we will be more upfront in communicating times that may affect your business or your customers.
As we improve partner communications, our status update page will still be the primary source for the most up-to-date info, and we also encourage you to follow these updates via our Twitter account @gootenupdates. Some of you may also see a survey from us asking for feedback on what you need from us, which will help us in improving these communications and the platform as a whole.
We will aim to consistently create more content and information accessible to you in order to navigate the current situation, as well, now that we have an idea of what this new way of the world means for Gooten.
As always, we want to thank you for being a Gooten partner. Though you may not have felt it recently, we want to assure you that you and your business are important to us, and it is our mission to regain your trust in us and the partner experience at Gooten.
Please see the most recent Gooten resources for COVID-19 below.