Mixing In a Little Sugar Sweetens the Deal

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Geeks on the Way (GOTW) provides technical support both in person and remotely throughout Western Canada. How ironic, then, that the support provider needed help of its own in procuring a customizable and scalable CRM system to meet its growing business needs.

Founded in 2001 by Chief Executive Officer John Leishman, GOTW has more than 20,000 customers and was among Profit magazine’s fastest-growing Canadian firms in 2005. As business grew, Leishman’s CRM systems couldn’t handle the larger scale. “We started [with] Act! as our contact management system because that’s what I was familiar with,” he recalls. “It worked fine at first, but then didn’t work very well when we spread to multiple locations. Then we moved to [Microsoft] Exchange Server, which ended up being a huge nightmare for us.”

Hoping to end the merry-go-round of flawed CRM, Leishman turned to a new option—open-source CRM. “I was intrigued with the whole concept,” he recalls. “I wanted to use this technology so I could customize it…and also have it Web-based so I wouldn’t have to rely on terminal services or any other remote assistance-type software.”

Leishman began perusing SourceForge, a Web site of open-source code and applications, and he came up with a two-prong litmus test to determine which open-source CRM offering—if any—would work for his company. Both involved the size of the user community. First, Leishman wanted to see a flurry of recent postings. “If there was little activity, obviously there’d be no community support to enhance or add more features,” he says. Second, he wanted to see a large number of downloads, popularity that raised the probability of future support.

The only firm to pass was open-source provider SugarCRM, which Leishman says had the largest following and the most downloads. He also believed that the open nature of SugarCRM’s offering would work well with Asterisk, an open-source phone application upon which GOTW built its telephony system.

Leishman says his main implementation snag has been with personnel. “Working with programmers is like pulling your own teeth,” he recalls. Multiple firms in the United States and Canada handled different pieces of what he describes as a “cradle-to-grave system,” depending on relevant experience and cash flow. However, the hard work was well worth it. “The end results were good for us. I looked at some off-the-shelf products a year ago…but they cost more than what I’ve spent on development so far to do just a third of what our system does.”

Since infusing SugarCRM into GOTW’s business processes, Leishman says that handling times have plummeted from two or three minutes to as low as 20 seconds, despite adding another 17 cities in the last nine months. Callers are now recognized by their phone numbers or other identifiers, enabling their SugarCRM records to pop up on the agent’s screen as the call is answered. If it’s a prospect, a “new contact” screen appears to the agent, mostly prepopulated thanks to integration with an external postal-information database. Agents can process customers quickly and move on—and that’s one benefit that can’t be quantified: freedom. “Our people can work from home, which adds a lot of flexibility to the day,” he adds.

Convinced that SugarCRM is up to the task of helping GOTW scale up, Leishman is confident he can stick with the vendor for the next round. “We’re looking at potentially adding 80 U.S. cities in the next 18 months, and adding 100 to 150 technicians to our existing 50,” he says. “I know now that Sugar can handle that.”

With SugarCRM, Geeks on the Way has been able to:

  • dramatically cut handling time from between two and three minutes to as little as 20 seconds;
  • slash payroll-processing time from 24 hours to five minutes;
  • knock 20 percent off its information technology costs; and
  • foster improved morale among the company’s customer-facing employees.

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