• January 1, 2006
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

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Digital signatures have been legal in the United States since 1998. We don't see them much, however, in personal or business transactions, unless you count manual signature capture. Whether from ignorance or fear, true e-signatures haven't seen much uptake, so maybe a success story will change a few minds. That's DocuSign's hope, and the technology provider offers its customer Worldspan as proof of concept. Worldspan is a vendor of global travel technology services for travel agencies and e-commerce sites. The company's data solutions give customers around the world access to nearly 1,000 travel suppliers. The business calls for a lot of contracts and other signed documents to be passed between Worldspan and its widespread customer base; according to Ron Mosher, regional sales manager, the process had always relied on overnight mail, with the occasional fax speeding one leg of a document's journey. "Every 24 to 48 months we'd go through our new contract process with customers--generate a contract packet and duplicate it, FedEx a copy to the customer, go over it with them on the phone, have them sign and return it. Then we'd QC it and return it for mistakes, back and forth until it was right," Mosher says. "Airline reservations are an electronic business, but our own business processes were manual." Things would have remained as they were, for a number of reasons. According to Pat Hochstein, vice president of North American sales, the company had tried to find more efficient ways of moving contracts around, with limited success. "In some cases we were able to fax a copy to the customer, which saved some time and money, but they still had to overnight the signed documents to us," Hochstein says. "We experimented with the idea of emailing PDFs of signed documents, but our legal department demanded actual signed paper." Signed paper meant 10 to 15 pages of contract per customer, for as many as a thousand customers. Worse, Hochstein says, "The sales agents usually wanted copies of their own, and we always had an archive copy as well." That's a lot of paper to ship around the world. Furthermore, Worldspan wasn't looking for a solution. "DocuSign found me--their sales rep Steve Woodworth, called me after 5 p.m. on Friday, figuring that by targeting the highest up person in the company he could find as late as possible, he'd be reaching somebody who could make a decision," Mosher recalls. Steve was right. "I took DocuSign's demo, and it was the perfect solution to our needs," Mosher says. The rest of the company concurred. "I expected more push-back from legal, but one of our attorneys had just come from a government assignment drafting the language for secure digital signature laws." Quick acceptance of digital signatures was external and internal. Mosher says Worldspan's customers took to it immediately, a sign he had made a good choice. "Our customers are great at selling travel, but computer technology isn't their forte. Many of them are small, independent businesses that appreciate simplification." The effect on the business was immediate and considerable. Worldspan was able to turn a contract process that could take two weeks or more into a 30-minute-per-customer exercise in most cases. "We still print a hard copy at our customer operations center just to be safe," Mosher admits, "and a few customers can't figure [DocuSign] out or don't trust it. But we do 99 percent of our U.S. business electronically now." The payoff By using DocuSign for its contract-based transactions, Worldspan was able to:
  • save more than $80,000 in hard costs the first year;
  • cut processing time from a week or more to just 30 minutes per contract; and
  • aim to acquire larger customers.
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