Automation NotebookCompany TopicsIssue 4 – 2005Learning ResourcesNewsNotebook IssueTechnology Brief

Improving Business Tools for Greater Customer Service

In today’s competitive market, companies are always looking for ways to set themselves apart. The companies that truly succeed at this are those who continually deliver
exceptional service and support while providing competitive prices. At AutomationDirect, we strive at being the best in all of these areas

To continue providing world class service and support to our customers, AutomationDirect has made three major technology improvements within the company this past year. Although all improvements were successful, there were some unexpected glitches along the way, some of which our customers experienced.

Updating Our Helpdesk 


The first system upgrade implemented was in the spring of 2004. The technical support team had been using a small Helpdesk system that was rapidly becoming less and less efficient. With more products to support, the volume of calls was increasing. The existing system, which used an Access database, was struggling to keep up with all the data entries, report requests, etc. There was a need for more advanced features for tracking customer concerns, product issues and more.

After careful consideration and research, the selection was made for a new technical support helpdesk product – HEAT (Helpdesk Expert Automation Tool). HEAT allowed us to move from the Access database to a SQL server database for more reliability, performance and functionality. The software is customizable, allowing us to meet specific needs of individual departments and users. One key feature is the ability to do reporting using almost any database query/reporting tool. HEAT also allows our Customer Response Assistants (CRA) to quickly assign calls to the right tech person based on their expertise in a particular product. This is a major benefit in efficiently serving a customer by quickly routing them to the product expert.

HEAT also has a tool that automatically notifies a tech person when a new call is assigned to him. It tracks all aspects of a call, including part numbers, serial numbers, problem description, problem solution and other actions to assist the tech person in serving his customer. This information is also useful for tracking any trends in product problems. HEAT has allowed us to respond quickly to our customers who call with technical support issues and is a key in successful communication. AutomationDirect has been awarded “Best Service in the Industry,” in at least one product category, for four consecutive years by a leading industry trade publication. This has been possible by using such tools as a Helpdesk.

Installing a New Phone System 


As a direct company, we pride ourselves on service to our customers. A key component to this success lies in useful and effective communication tools. With the growth of the business, we were starting to see various performance issues with the existing phone system, where capabilities and expansion options were limited. The technology was fast becoming outdated and it was time to invest in a more modern system. We began our search for a new and more sophisticated phone system that would satisfy all of our requirements.

In June 2004, we installed an Inter-Tel Axxess system. We can now track each call as it enters our system and follow the path it takes until the call is completed. The phone system is a feature-rich system that will provide AutomationDirect a growth path of 600+ users. Some of the most popular features of the Axxess phone system include ScreenPops, enhanced voice mail and detailed reporting.

ScreenPops, provided by the Inter-tel IVR, will allow us to provide faster customer service by displaying customer information to the call agent as the call is being answered. The enhanced integrated voicemail system provides fast and clear voice messaging for system users. These new voicemail features include caller ID, record-a-call, undelete deleted messages and time/date stamps.

The real-time call traffic status gives supervisory level information on any call as it is processed through the phone system. This same information is gathered as historical data, providing detailed reports of all calls routed into our business. This feature gives us the ability to monitor call traffic and to staff accordingly.

To help make the transition to the new system smoother, we began training our employees internally by providing training classes with mock units. During startup there were phone system company representatives on-site for the first two days. This assistance was extremely helpful, as internal users had many special requests. This would have been a difficult challenge for our communications team without the outside assistance.

Commerce Center Software Replacement 

Commerce Center software replacement

The true heartbeat of a company is its business system. At AutomationDirect, this system is utilized by our sales, accounting, logistics and purchasing teams. Growth once again forced us to look at our existing system.

To ensure that a system will reliably fulfill our needs and support our growing company, a comprehensive inventory management/reduction, shipping/business module must be in effect. With the existing system and somewhat “stale” technology, the speed was not fast enough to satisfy a late-day shipping cut-off, and capacity problems were growing as speed continued to decline.

For a direct company focused on exceptional customer service this could be the most critical internal tool, so we began researching a solution to address as many requests as possible from both external customers and internal users. One of the requests from our customers was for same-day shipping on orders placed as late at 5:00 P.M. Our internal users wanted more features for storing various levels of contact information. The list was long and challenging.

In October 2004, we implemented an entirely new system, Commerce Center from Prophet 21. This new system allows us to better track customer information and customer history with impressive speed; reporting capabilities are much improved and there are no more capacity issues. Going forward, the platform will support a link which includes incorporating the telephone system for ScreenPops (mentioned earlier). When an incoming call is received, the system will link the caller information into the customer database. The agent’s display immediately provides details of the incoming call, saving time. In addition, improved
integration with our shipping system has contributed to our ability to now ship orders placed as late as 5:00 pm (eastern time) the same day. It’s this cutting edge technology that allows us to continue to control costs and to provide our customers with the best prices possible.

In order to prepare for our new system, we began internal training with our sales, accounting, purchasing and logistics teams two months before implementation.

If you are beginning a system conversion as broad as this, you may want to consider over-allocating personnel resources during the test, design and preparation phase. We had many projects occurring simultaneously during our phase of the design and could have benefited by spending more time training in some areas before going live.

Ultimately, the goal of system improvements should be more efficient service without distancing the customer from the supplier. Technology that is implemented simply to reduce person-to-person transactions may feel isolating and cause frustration. Customer service tools that both enhance human interactions and allow efficient electronic interactions are the best application of new technology to create an enjoyable customer experience.

By Dave Hartig and the
Communications Team

Originally Published: March 1, 2005