Boosting Productivity North of the Border

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The supposed benefit of smartphones is enabling remote workers to work more efficiently. Judging by the plight of road warriors at Pitney Bowes Canada (PBC), this is not always the case.

Pitney Bowes provides a suite of what it calls mailstream software, hardware, services, and solutions to help companies manage the flow of mail, documents, and packages. The Canadian arm of the company—separate from operations in the United States and Europe—employs 400 field service workers, and their efforts generate millions of customer communications each month, says Jacques L’Africain, vice president of customer service for PBC.

L’Africain says that, after coming on board three years ago, he pounded the pavement with workers to see how they operated. “I quickly came to the conclusion that the way they were doing business was not best and very unproductive,” he recalls, adding that field employees were using a technology that wasn’t mobile-friendly. “Imagine a 15-inch screen, typical for computers,” he says. “These workers had maybe a three-by-three[-inch] view on their mobile devices. [Navigating] the screen was very difficult.”

He also discovered that employees were spending time at the end of the day feeding back information gathered during the workday into the mainframe field service system. “They were doing this on their own time, and I thought that was very unfair,” L’Africain says. “We pride ourselves on being a very good and fair employer.”

L’Africain went in search of a mobile solution to improve worker productivity. After researching offerings from various vendors, he says, PBC opted for Jersey City, N.J.–based mobile solutions provider Antenna Software’s AMPower Service. Jim Somers, Antenna’s vice president of marketing, says that parent Pitney Bowes had been a customer since 2002, but Antenna had not yet reached the Canadian arm.
Familiarity wasn’t enough, L’Africain says: “Pitney Bowes may have already been a partner, but Canada is on a different system. [Antenna] still had to win our business.... [In the return-on-investment] and internal business plan, [Antenna’s proposal] was better.”

One potential issue involved the actual phone each field worker carried. PBC is moving to exclusively use BlackBerry smartphones, but during the time of implementation still had some Windows Mobile devices. Antenna was able to handle multiple platforms.

The two companies completed the implementation in four months, with a go-live date in December 2007. L’Africain says his group was well prepared, working with Antenna developers to keep the implementation moving along. “Those are the areas you fall back on,” he bemoans. “The developer team is waiting for answers on [how to proceed], and they’re not getting answers from the business.”

Convincing a tenured employee base to make the switch required some skill. “I have a very mature staff, and that’s good for institutional knowledge but not for change management,” L’Africain says. But getting the new applications into their hands led to unanimous approval. “They absolutely adore the application,” he crows. “It makes their lives much easier.”

Since December, field workers have been able to save 45 minutes they used to spend at the end of their shifts entering information into the mainframe. The Antenna solution now automatically directs calls to them on the road along with all necessary customer information right on their smartphones. As a result, the number of service calls taken has increased 5.3 percent companywide, exceeding expectations. “We underestimated how pushing services calls to technicians was going to impact that metric,” L’Africain declares. “For us, it’s been an unmitigated success.” 

With Antenna’s AMPower Service, Pitney Bowes Canada was able to:

  • save technicians an average of 45 minutes per day;
  • improve response times by 16.1 percent;
  • increase the number of service calls per day by 5.3 percent; and
  • collect more-accurate feedback through the use of drop-down boxes and prepopulated forms instead of free-text input.

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