Answering the Call
W.W. Grainger improves service by quickly and efficiently responding to customer inquiries.
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Chicago based W.W. Grainger is North America's leading distributor of maintenance, repair and operating supplies-everything from A-coils to Zip screws. One might expect blue-collar, meat-and-potatoes customer service from a company founded in the 1926 as a supplier of electric motors. But just the opposite is true. When it comes to applying technology to respond immediately to customer requests-instead of hours or days later-Grainger is more proactive than many so-called customer-centric, high-tech firms. The company operates a system that quickly and efficiently directs customer calls to the appropriate location within the company, eliminating time wasted on hold and the aggravation that ensues.

To accomplish its customer service goals, Grainger created the Custom Solutions unit, based in Gurnee, Ill., to serve customers that are streamlining their purchasing functions and lowering overall purchasing costs by buying from fewer suppliers. Custom Solutions covers seven product categories comprising two million separate items.

The goal of the Custom Solutions call center-which handles upwards of 20,000 calls per day-is to satisfy every client as soon as possible on the first call. A caller dials a toll-free number to connect with a customer service representative (CSR) preassigned to his account.

The technology in Grainger's call center quickly matches callers with service experts, dramatically reducing client wait times and, thereby, increasing long-term loyalty. Utilizing ArialView software from Arial Systems Corp. of Vernon Hills, Ill., Grainger's 100-plus CSRs can parse all 300 technical staff, product experts, marketing employees and corporate executives. The browser-based ArialView catalog boasts a knowledgebase of every employee's skills, contact numbers, e-mail, schedule and photo. CSRs can search the catalog by name, skill, department, location or even photo to locate needed resources. The system also sports a backup tree listing alternate sources for solving a particular problem. If one employee is out of the office, CSRs can contact the next person on the list, ensuring that no customer is left wanting.

Call center agents can also determine the exact location of their colleagues. Grainger's employees wear transmitter-embedded ID badges designed by ArialView that continuously signal a network of wireless receivers throughout their facility. The receivers are microprocessors that track the location of each staffer via the ArialView Access Engine server. Using the desktop Web interface, CSRs can immediately find a given technician, her closest telephone extension and use a directed-audio feature to announce the call and forward the customer directly to the expert.

ArialView figures that if its system can save CSRs 15 seconds per call multiplied by 2,000 calls per day, the reduction in customer wait times totals 40 hours a week. And at $40 per hour to maintain an average call center seat, Grainger could see an annual return of more than $83,000 in reduced search time alone.

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