Behind the Scenes: Smith-Cooper [Part 2]

In Part 2 of our interview with Chris, he tells us about how Esker helps Smith-Cooper reach their service and productivity goals while empowering the members of his team. If you missed Part 1, find it hereNote: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Esker: Is there anything you can tell me about how Esker fits into your broader customer experience goals or strategy?

Chris: As an organization, we have a goal to be the highest quality service company in our industry. I think we’ve accomplished that historically by saying, “Let’s get some really experienced, tenured people and add headcount to make sure that we can remain a service-oriented company.”

But I think what Esker has allowed us to do is actually two-fold in benefiting both our service levels and staff productivity. It has enabled us to measure and really push productivity without ever relinquishing our focus on service. It allowed us to actually do the type of work that customers appreciate and value. I tend to think that we want to be fast and efficient in order entry, but the thing that we care the most about are our service-oriented metrics. My goal was to become fast and efficient so I can actually allow people to spend more time thinking about service, and Esker is probably at the heart of that for our team.

Esker: How has that change affected your employees?

Chris: When I inherited the group, we had people who had been in the industry 20-30 years, and we also had people who have been in the industry for six months. I thought it was insane that both employees who have been here for 30 years and employees who have been here for six months were doing the same thing: entering orders into the system.

The capabilities there are so different. There are certain things a six-month person can do and there are just a litany of things that a person with a lot of tenure can do. So I thought, “Let’s allow those with more experience to be the athletes that they really are!” I started thinking about how to change and improve processes as fundamental as order entry.

I wanted to be able to off-load the order entry activity from folks that are highly tenured and highly skilled. However, one of the challenges with that approach is if I’ve been taking care of a customer for 25 years, that customer has the utmost faith that when they send me an order, it will get back to them within a certain timeframe because their go-to inside sales person has touched it, entered it and has done everything else necessary to ensure their satisfaction. We had to give our customers that same sense of security and certainty even though their sales person doesn’t have to do everything manually to process an order. So in this process, I’ve been able to strip away a lot of the order entry activity, and I think they’ve appreciated the change in what they’re doing now.

Esker: So what do they get to spend more of their time on now?

Chris: More service-oriented things like our phone calls, for example. We receive a lot of phone calls every day for any number of reasons. Before Esker, managers had to take on the role of encouraging staff to answer phone calls and have efficient conversations when there were several customer calls waiting to be answered. We don’t have to do that now because we never have phone calls holding any more. Plus, the team is still the same size, if not smaller, than before we had Esker. But they now have more bandwidth to be on the phones from a service standpoint rather than having to play “catch up” to get things turned around.

I was talking to one of the managers today who said, “It’s amazing how when a customer calls and has a question about a PO, a dispute or a price or something, the first thing I do is go find that purchase order in Esker because it’s archived.” In past, that manager would have had to go and hunt down that sheet of paper and call the customer back in 30 minutes. Now, he can say, “Let me find it while we’re on the phone and deal with this issue right now.”

Esker: Outside of how using Esker has helped to better leverage your staff, what are some other benefits you’ve seen?

Chris: One of the things we’ve introduced is the measurement of how many orders go through some version of technology, whether that’s EDI or Esker. We set a lofty goal because I needed buy-in and compliance. Every month since we’ve started tracking it, we’ve passed our goal because everybody bought in and complied with the new solution. Right now, the overwhelming majority of our orders go through some kind of technology solution and Esker is the lion share of that. We realize it won’t be 100% because there are certain things that we just won’t be able to put in there, but again, it’s been a fundamental shift in the way that we do business.

We pride ourselves on being able to tell our customers “You know what? You get us your PO anyway you want to. Let us deal with it once we get it.” Esker has allowed us to take those varied formats and turn them around so much quicker. We used to hold big stock orders on our desk for days, and now, those get turned around in a really short amount of time.

Esker also gives us a second set of eyes on every PO. The bandwidth it’s created and the reduction of human error has been so valuable for us, and in general, the capture of information (for contact information or pricing variances or whatever else) is so much greater.

To be honest, there was a degree of resistance when we first introduced this. A lot of our industry veterans don’t like change, but I would say that those people are now singing the praises of Esker. It’s impacted everyone on our inside sales and customer service team in a positive way. Esker is on a shortlist of transformational implementations in the last 3-5 years that every person would say has been a positive impact on our team and our company. I would say it’s been an A+ endeavor for us.

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