The customer survey that Zarges management conducted after a sales slump in 2003 was absolutely illuminating. A company that receives almost all of its orders by telephone and fax clearly feels an effect in sales when 13 percent of all callers cannot reach it.
No Information? No Orders
Approximately 7,500 dealers regularly sell Zarges products, and they often call the manufacturer while speaking to customers in their stores to get information quickly. However – as the customers complained – they often got nothing more than a recorded voice saying that all representatives were busy, even after repeated calls. They would have to spend several minutes on hold before they heard “Please try your call again later” and were disconnected. It’s no wonder that customers were extremely dissatisfied and that the well-established company increasingly lost market share. To counter this development, company management in the midsize company decided to take a new strategic direction. New developments at the company included a redesign of its product assortment and a massive improvement in customer service.
Today, the product assortment at Zarges includes ladders, scaffolding, platforms, construction lifts, elevators, and special equipment (for aircraft construction or maintenance work), and comprehensive offerings of crates, containers, and carts as part of its logistics equipment. But that was not always the case. In 2004, the company limited its entire product portfolio to two industrial and trade areas; it took about two-thirds of its old products off the market. With the setup of a new call center for customer service, Zarges also fulfilled the preconditions for clearly improved service.
In 2003, no one thought about classifying callers automatically according to the relation to the business. All dealers ended up in the same waiting queue. Employees at Zarges had to click through screens endlessly in SAP R/3 for every inquiry because the interface did not offer a view of the complete customer history. It was simply impossible to provide information quickly. That’s why managers looked for an option to link SAP R/3 to the contact center application
The Right Connection – Always
After several workshops with consultants from Siemens, the company decided on a solution based upon HiPath ProCenter, a call center application from Siemens. It was to be integrated with the company’s SAP solution with the SAP CRM Ready Kit, an approach to implementation that made special programming superfluous. The connector is linked to SAP R/3 and uses control functions to distribute calls to HiPath ProCenter automatically. The application knows what functions are used most frequently by end users, such as answering call, redirecting calls, callbacks, and conferencing. The SAP and Siemens solutions could be integrated quickly.
HiPath ProCenter Advanced enables skill-based routing: the setup of virtual teams of specialists. A contact (caller) is classified according to predefined rules like a telephone number or customer number, which is entered into the solution over a keyboard. For the customers and their concerns, the software then searches among the available employees for the right one – based upon specific knowledge about a certain area, special experience with a product, or special qualifications for dealing with certain groups of customers. Callers spend less time on hold because calls are sorted individually by priority. This approach ensures that each caller receives personal assistance and that the workload is distributed evenly among call center employees.
For example, the software always connects specific customers with the same employee. An overflow function permits integration of additional employees into the telephone service when needed – during peak times or scheduled breaks for regular employees. A special search routine even assigns the direct-dial number of a caller to the correct customer. The average hit rate is now 85%. Employees now see the contact history in SAP R/3 with a browser-based customer cockpit, the Enriched Customer Interaction Center from arvato systems, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann. The standard screens of the solution were tailed to the concrete process flows at Zarges.
A Relaxed Reaction – Even from Stressed Callers
As soon as a telephone rings, the agents use the cockpit to see who’s calling, and they can see all contact data and the customer’s contact history. Even a stressed caller thus reaches a relaxed employee. Because there’s no need for a hectic search for the required information, the agents now have an overview at all times and can answer questions quickly and competently. Orders can be taken during the conversation or during follow-up processing directly in the SAP solution, which transmits them to production planning and control.
The screen template is helpful – even for the now-rare complaints. These queries come to agents over a dedicated line. From an action box, the agents go directly to the shipment tracking system of the logistics service provider. Callers who urgently need a delivery are immediately informed about the status of their shipment. Some keys are assigned special functions – quick keys – for the most important SAP transactions, such as creating orders and quotations. This feature accelerates processes in the customer center significantly. To increase transparency, the contact history displays all customer activities for the past three months. An agent needs only to double click to see original order or to view older information in the SAP solution. The screen also immediately displays the notes taken during an earlier call. The agent can refer to these notes while talking with the customer.
Easier Calls Mean More Sales
Based upon the completely redesigned product offers, the number of calls rose as expected – from 34,000 in 2003 to 58,000 in 2004. Despite the increased load, in 2004 callers could reach Zarges immediately 97.59 percent of the time – and the company still had the same number of employees. In 2005, the number hit 98.14 percent with 53,000 calls. Today, callers are put on hold for a maximum of 10 seconds, and they are no longer disconnected. The length of the calls also increased because the scope of the conversations had increased. An average call lasted 98 seconds in 2003 and 122 seconds in 2004. Today, a call lasts an average of 119 seconds – without making it any more difficult to reach the company.
Despite a generally shrinking market, Zarges increased sales by 4 percent last year. Management believes that improved customer service and the improved ability to reach agents have made a significant contribution to the improved sales. Its conclusion? A high degree of orientation toward customers makes an essential difference in global competition for a midsize production company.