Ready, Set, Voice
Labour costs account for around 45% of total warehouse operating overheads, according to The Aberdeen Group’s best practice labour management report. It’s not surprising then that careful staff management is becoming a stronger focus for logistics managers looking for savings.
The logistics industry regularly sees high staff churn and skills shortages. High physicality and the need for shift working means that wages are kept at a competitive level so stability and the well-being of the worker is a priority. Managers, who are under pressure to deliver better performance, can’t risk losing valued staff and putting accuracy and productivity in jeopardy by making excessive demands of their people. As a result, many are looking to technology to make the efficiency improvements required.
In the current economic climate, not all businesses can contemplate a major IT investment and the ensuing disruption. So any new technology needs to be flexible and affordable, whilst delivering a fast and compelling return on investment. Also, although logistics managers are looking to increase performance and generally do more with less, they need to be mindful of the value of existing, experienced staff and avoid introducing new solutions that undermine morale and motivation.
One technology that satisfies these needs is Voice. Rather than seeking to replace or dehumanise workers, it recognises and magnifies their unique value. By removing the need for users to spend time and effort simply interfacing with business systems, it allows users to focus on the actual work, such as picking and other ‘human-led’ tasks, leading naturally to higher productivity and improved accuracy.
When using a voice-directed system, users wear head-sets, leaving their eyes and hands free. The worker hears relevant instructions from a warehouse management system only when needed, enabling total focus on each step, without distraction or delay. Each spoken response is validated to ensure accuracy, before the next instruction is delivered. Industry research consistently shows that when using voice-directed picking, businesses can work in excess of 20% faster than other methods, with accuracy rates often reaching 99.98%.
By delivering step-by-step, just-in-time instructions and mentoring, Voice Technology results in a truly multi skilled workforce capable of executing any workflow without the need for specific training, giving total flexibility and a dynamic agility to react to any situation.
Shift managers benefit by having a real-time view of the current workload so they can make decisions on moving employees between workflows to meet ever more demanding deadlines, reducing the need in many cases to bring in additional labour.
By its nature, voice-directed working enforces best practice. In picking, for instance, assignments are spoken to pickers in the most efficient order, one simple command at a time. The picker confirms by reading-in check digits or elements of item code to validate that the correct action has been taken. Similarly, workers are guided through every task with each response audited in real-time ensuring accuracy, so unofficial ‘short cuts’ are eliminated at source.
One of the common misconceptions about voice-directed solutions is that they detract in some way from job satisfaction. In fact, a recent logistics industry study by Redshift Research, found that 90 per cent of workers equipped voice technology were actually satisfied in their daily work.
It seems that employees like the flexibility and guidance that voice brings, whilst managers value the insight it offers, as well as the improvement in productivity and accuracy. Crucially when the market demands more, and errors become unacceptable due to the delays and costs they incur, voice-directed technology increases customer satisfaction and customer retention.