Communication Is the Way to a Customer’s Heart

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One of the first business ventures for Kansas City, Mo.–based Marlen Research Corp. (formerly Marlen International) was the canning machine for Vienna sausage in the 1950s. Since then, Marlen has added new equipment to its food-processing repertoire—machines that pump, portion, grind, dice, slice, and chill. Its key customers are household brands such as Hormel, Kraft, Frito Lay, and Hershey. Marlen may be an old company, but thanks to a recently upgraded CRM system, its operations are modern.

But that wasn’t always the case.  Brad Willsey says that when he took over as service manager at Marlen last fall, Marlen was doing little to track customer calls and machine issues. So he created a Microsoft Contacts database to allow access to important customer issues with machinery. It was not the ideal option, though.

“We used several kinds of contact management platforms, and it was always disjointed between sales and service,” Willsey says. “Neither one ever knew what the other was doing.” There was constant conversation between the departments to catch up on what was happening with customers and Marlen equipment.

Eventually, Willsey reports, Marlen switched to Sage Act! for both sales and service. “Act! was certainly better than having two separate systems,” he says. “But as far as handling machinery calls, it was geared more toward sales.” He explains that adding detailed machinery information into the Act! fields proved cumbersome—and it was even more difficult to glean any insights from that data. 

To top off the issues that Marlen was having with its customer contact software, it was transitioning to new servers and data from a partner company that rebranded under the Marlen umbrella. “We have had a lot of transitions from one company to another,” Willsey says. “And we know how disruptive those transitions can be.”

In the early spring of 2010, Marlen decided to pull the trigger with a new CRM system. It implemented Salesforce.com to manage its contacts and selected AppExchange partner ServiceMax for field service management. Willsey recalls, “When we first approached Salesforce.com and ServiceMax about doing a changeover, they said they could do that in a couple of weeks.” He was skeptical, however, given the trouble the company had a few years prior absorbing systems, software, and data from its partner. Rather than a fast implementation, Marlen took baby steps to ensure a smooth deployment.

“We spent three months changing over, reviewing step by step what information we had, what issues we were having and explaining those difficulties,” he says. “We were ensuring that the Salesforce and ServiceMax portions would do what we needed them to do from a reporting standpoint and a service issue recording standpoint.” Once fully converted, Marlen did not need to return to Act!. “We turned one off one day and one on the next,” Willsey says.

A requirement that Marlen sought in field service software was the ability to run reports and have configurable analytics and data at the ready. Willsey data entry, retrieval, and interface customization were better than they were in Act!

More important, Marlen wanted a system that would, in turn, better serve its customers. Willsey says the ServiceMax “dispatch console” has helped the organization better manage and schedule its technicians. Not only can a manager drag and drop appointments but, in doing so, the system also automatically notifies a technician of a job and the details. “It has sped up the scheduling process and saved me a bunch of time,” Willsey says.

ServiceMax also allows for automatic notifications when urgent issues arise. For example, if a customer calls into Marlen with an emergency service need, the representative can tag the call as a priority. Not only does it send out a service technician, but the salesperson assigned to that territory also is notified. That type of knowledge transfer rarely occurred in the past—and if it did, it was not immediate. Thanks to ServiceMax’s mobile capabilities, service technicians can get notifications on their smartphones, which speeds the process, Willsey says.

The biggest gain, according to Willsey, has been Marlen’s increased communication since implementing ServiceMax. “That was the hurdle we wanted to overcome—the communication gap between sales and service,” he says. “It’s critical to have information available to both teams.” In the first quarter of 2011, Marlen plans to integrate its parts inventory system to Salesforce and ServiceMax to have greater visibility of the parts usage by its customers. “We will soon have a one-stop shop for everything,” Willsey says

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