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Customer Service Automation Helps Distributors Manage Pandemic Surge

Distributors ADI Global and D&H Distributing saw jumps in customer service requests, including significantly longer call times, over the last year. Here's how they handled the spike.
Young telephone operator with headset wear protection face mask against coronavirus, Customer service executive team working at office

Customer service has always been king for distributors, but evolving customer needs during the pandemic have put a further spotlight on this important component of doing business. For example, in the last year D&H Distributing’s average phone calls for orders went from four minutes up to 20 minutes. It created a scramble for the supplier of technology to schools, the medical industry and other frontline areas impacted by the pandemic, said Brian Webb, director of sales and operations, during last week’s MDM webcast, Create More Revenue-Generating Hours for Your Customer Service Team.

Webb and fellow panelist Joe Loucks, global director of sales operations at ADI Global, discussed with Conexiom President & CEO Ray Grady how software-as-a-service automation is helping them to deal with such shifts in demand.

Webb said his company picked Conexiom, sponsor of the webcast, as a means to lower workloads and anxiety across its sales staff and customer base while also reducing ordering errors. D&H was also able to scale up its customers on the Conexiom technology stack by using automation.

“One thing that we know that we always have an opportunity to continuously improve upon is that meshing of automation and people, and how do we get the most out of our people? We’re an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan), so it means we share in the profits. So really, it was born out of reducing stress and anxiety to our co-owners,” said Webb. “We immediately saw a reduction in everything, with the stress, the anxiety, and giving a deeper, more meaningful relationship experience with our customers, and just turning the dial up on what we can do for them.”

Before moving to Conexiom, both D&H and ADI Global’s customer service reps had to herd order management workflows, whether by phone or by emails, through a multi-layered process that could induce human errors along the way.

“When you talk about order automation, it’s not just about reducing data entry,” said Loucks. “It’s allowing the customer, the sales rep and the customer rep to spend more time on those complex orders so that they can make sure that they’re correct. It allows the more routine orders to flow through the system because you don’t need that hand holding.”

By provisioning email attachments directly into Conexiom, Loucks said orders will still move forward if a sales rep is out of the office, or if there’s a weather event that disrupts work. “If I have a sales rep that calls in sick one day, and the customers emailing directly to them, now no one else can see that email and those POs get messed up,” Loucks said. “So pre-Conexiom, it was hard for us to respond to things like if we had to close a branch and send everybody home, either because there’s a hurricane coming or whatever. We had a mechanism to shift phone calls, but to get ahold of those emails, and the attached POs, we didn’t really have a mechanism for that.”

Change management is key

Both Loucks and Webb said it was important to let sales reps know that automation wasn’t about eliminating their jobs, but rather more about giving them more time to deal with customers’ complex sales orders by phone, if necessary. They expect sales reps to look at their jobs as managing accounts versus racking up commissions.

Lastly, both also said their respective companies were drawn to Conexiom because its SaaS sales order and AP invoice automations didn’t require customers to make changes on their end. “I don’t think people wake up in the morning and say; ‘I want to handle manual documents. I can’t wait to print and rekey things into a system,’” said Conexiom’s Grady. “There still may have been some fear, uncertainty and doubt as to what was going to happen. We could sit here all day as the SaaS provider and say it is about labor and reallocation, but we’re going to free you up to do more value-added things.”

Change management was a top priority for both D&H and ADI Global. Communicating with customers about what parts of an ordering process goes into Conexiom and what doesn’t was key, according to Loucks. A rules-based order processing system automatically allowed orders to be entered into the system prior to being reviewed by the user, if a company is more comfortable with that approach. It also helps to have one person or team dedicated to the automated ordering process.

“Change management would be the No. 1 thing to plan for, to train for and to communicate,” Webb said. “I think that is so important, especially when you have an order entry team, and you have sales reps who have done this for so long. So as a business, it was an opportunity to work with our teams to really show them what this meant.

“We still need you. We still value you. This is to reduce your stress and anxiety and allow you to keep doing your job in a much more creative, fulfilling and healthy manner. We weren’t looking to replace any humans at all with this. It was really all about (improving) that customer experience.”

Listen to the entire webcast, which includes exclusive MDM-Conexiom data benchmarking where distributors are with their customer service expectations and the gaps that are preventing them from achieving their goals, by clicking here.

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