A guest post by Jonathan Adlerstein, CIO Plymouth Rock Energy
After a grueling selection process, months of careful planning and a waterfall implementation with a potpourri of vendors and professional salesforce.com implementation specialists, Active Endpoints made a huge splash in our new Force.com ERP implementation. How did this latecomer have such a dramatic impact on this strategic project?
First, some background. Founded in 1948, Plymouth Rock Energy delivered coal and heating oil to homes and businesses in New York City. Many years later, we continued to deliver heating oil but had also expanded into the deregulated energy market to serve natural gas and electricity to our customers. In the past few years, we’ve experienced explosive growth in these new product offerings and have since expanded across state lines to serve over 30,000 customers in the northeastern United States.
That’s all fine and good for the business, but it presented some pretty serious challenges to our technology team. In my tenure as the CIO, I’ve had to contend with IT systems that simply weren’t designed to cope with the sheer volume of customers the company had acquired. We were not able to handle the rapid growth and expansion into new territories. The impact to the business was dramatic. The impact to the customer was worse. For example, we were losing our footing as a family-run business with a reputation of unsurpassed customer service and slipping into another faceless company which lost customer information, and billing customers was error prone. We needed to take action to get our feet back under us.
My first priority was to organize an evaluation of CRM platforms. We looked at all the usual suspects – Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and salesforce.com – plus some industry-specific applications. We had a level playing field, with no biases toward any vendor. We didn’t care if the final solution was “on-premise” or “cloud-based.” But, it had to be versatile enough to suit our business. After eight months, we selected Salesforce because we felt that it not only matched our initial requirements, it also had the flexibility to handle our future growth.
My next step was to engage a salesforce.com partner to help with the planning, implementation and roll-out. I selected Bluewolf, and worked with them for four months to map our business processes and carefully plan the project. We produced what Bluewolf terms “The Blueprint” – a comprehensive document detailing all our requirements and how we would implement them. The rollout was divided into multiple phases. We rolled out the first phase – Service Cloud – to address customer support, account enrollment and termination. Later phases would roll out Sales Cloud and our new custom ERP system for billing, invoicing, sales and marketing. It was during this period that I attended Cloudforce New York in November 2011 and saw a demo of Cloud Extend for Salesforce. I was immediately hooked.
Salesforce is a great platform, but I still faced some issues with making our customer service department more efficient. This was due in part to the customization of Salesforce and the complexity of energy supply billing. For example, we had many processes which required multiple steps from the user, e.g. create the account, associate the appropriate physical delivery location, link to the utility account, etc. These complex processes were required for the proper functioning of the system, but also proved cumbersome and prone to errors. Reps were often entering the same data in multiple locations. The process simply took too long – customers would wait on hold for ten minutes! While Salesforce had gone a long way towards improving our customer service I could see that:
Data entry was somewhat inefficient, error prone and redundant;
We were wasting a significant amount of time resolving routine billing inquiries, resulting in poor customer service.
Many processes were overly cumbersome and confusing and therefore not completed properly which resulted in poor resolution to customer cases.
When I saw Cloud Extend, I knew it would be a way to automate the tasks of our customer service agents to resolve our outstanding issues. With fantastic support from Active Endpoints, I created our first Cloud Extend guide in a couple of hours. To complete the guide I realized that I needed some search functionality. Active Endpoints took my feedback and created a search component for me that I could then add to my guide. After a few days of testing, I published my guide into our production Salesforce org.
The effect was instant and I immediately saw our call center productivity improve. The agents are now efficient and there’s no redundancy. They follow the guide and make decisions that determine what objects need to be created, plus they have the ability to dynamically add objects, as they see fit. Data is entered only once and propagated. In a few clicks, the agents can create a whole billing hierarchy within Salesforce.
There has also been an improvement in data quality. This is because we’ve eliminated duplicate customer records, such as duplicate accounts for gas and another one for electricity. It just doesn’t happen anymore. We also don’t get the angry calls from customers who say “Hey, I cancelled my service over a month ago, but I’ve just got another bill.” This is because the most efficient customer service process is completed EVERY TIME since we’ve added Cloud Extend, so when there’s a hand-off from one agent to another, no one drops the ball.
The benefits we’ve achieved are outstanding. We’ve seen a 20% increase in agent productivity, reduced our customer call waiting times to virtually zero and reduced the time it takes to create new accounts by 95%. What used to be a 10 minute process is now just a minute and a half.
We’ve started phase two and will implement Sales Cloud with Cloud Extend this summer. We plan to utilize the opportunity management capabilities in Salesforce this summer and Cloud Extend to guide our sale reps through the lead processing and opportunity creation process. Salesforce was a great foundation, but the addition of Cloud Extend has energized our implementation so that we could reach full power (pun intended). Cloud Extend has given us the ability to simplify very complex processes, increase productivity and increase customer satisfaction while giving our business the tools it requires to continue our strong growth.
For more information about Plymouth Rock Energy and how businesses and residential customers can save money on gas and electricity bills, please visit www.plymouthenergy.com or call 855-32-POWER (855-327-6937).
Post from: VOSibilities, the Active Endpoints BPMS blog
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