If by now you don’t have a web order entry and customer self service site set up for your customers and have it connected to your ERP system, you are way behind.

For business to business customers this is one of the most important things you can do to both grow your business and to keep your existing clients coming back for more.

There are really multiple parts to an ecommerce and client self service portal. The first part is pretty simple. You need to have an integrated system for customers to place orders. What does integrated mean? Integrated means that a customer places orders on your ecommerce site and then they are magically transported to your order management (ERP) system. It should be automated so that there is not any manual (expensive) intervention of the order to read it from your web site either by email notification or other means. As you know there really is no magic to get the order to your system.  The order should simply flow into your ERP system in an automated way. From this point it can be checked by an employee and then released to be processed. This should be a very simple and fast process. After all, the more orders you process with as few people touching them as possible, the more money you make.

The second part is as important as an automated system to take orders. You should have as part of your web site a section for customer self service. This should allow your customers to do many things so that they really don’t need you or your employees. This may sound like you are losing focus on your customers but you are not. You may like a personal touch and prefer your customers to call and talk to someone on the phone. That is ok but guess what? Your customers really don’t want that unless they need something they can’t get from your web site or it is something really important.

Customers today really do prefer to be able to find what they are looking for or need quickly and easily themselves. They don’t have to call into your office, wait for someone to pick up the phone, wait for someone to help them and then explain to someone what they need. If they can simply go to your web site and within a few clicks get what they need they are much happier. They can do this 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They don’t even have to wait until you are open.

What types of information and services do your customers want or need. To start they naturally need to be able to find past orders and the status of each order. They will need to know if the item(s) they ordered are backordered or if you have them ready to ship. They need to very easily be able to find what they ordered in the past and how many. They also will want to know how much they paid for what they purchased. You will also need to provide any shipping information to a customer on the order. Make it easy for them by providing a link to the shipping agents tracking system along with the tracking number. This way they can follow the package the whole way and they won’t need to call you and ask you where it is.

As a matter of fact it is best to provide a status throughout your internal process as well. For example, it is released and waiting for picking, picked waiting for shipping, and any other process you have internally.

The next thing they will want is to view any invoices that you have for them. They will want to view past invoices and open invoices. You should also have a way for customers to pay their invoices. Why not let them pay online rather than wait for them to 1) put a check in their system 2) wait for approval 3) print the check, 4) find someone to sign the check and 5) put the check in the mail. Have a very simple and fast way for them to pay open invoices on your site. You should even be able to accept partial payments against an invoice. Collect as much as you can this way and reduce the amount of manual (expensive) intervention. Once you collect these payments they should be processed magically (automatically) into your ERP system once again.

You should also provide a way for your customers to download any information they need about your products. For example a link to a list of products along with the item numbers, quantity available and the customer’s price or even a list price. Many today even would like images of your products so that they can very easily list your products on their web site(s) to sell.

If you can provide an easy way for your customers to find and order your products as well as provide an easy self service portal for them to use, you will keep them coming back for more.

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