Going Nuts Over Automation
As seen in
Call centers go high-tech and high-profit by Michele Marinan
HARRELL FARMS IS A QUIET PLACE, off the beaten path in Meggett, S.C. The 200-acre, family-owned pecan farm, processing plant, and mail-order house has a bucolic feel to it. Owners Bob and Charlotte Harrell like it that way. "That's one of our strong selling points," says Bob Harrell. "We're a family-run operation. Our trees were planted by my wife and myself, our children, and our grandchildren. We actually put them in the ground. That's all part of what we're about."
Don't let that down-home attitude fool you. Like any other retail business, Harrell Farms takes lots of orders, as customers from across the country call (and e-mail) for their pecans, pecan-wood honey, and gift tins. Keeping track of those orders, customers, inventory, and finances is all part of the equation. Without a cohesive way of organizing that information, the Harrells realized they were missing opportunities. It was time to automate their ordering process and put Harrell Farms on the map.
The Harrells and their employees - seven during the season and just two in the off-season - used to take orders by hand: the "shoe-box" approach, as Bob calls it. It was almost that bad," he says. "It was horrible to keep up with."
Using Excel, he had put together an invoice that helped the Harrells and their staff collect such basic customer information as name, address, telephone number, credit card information, and product ordered. If they were near a computer when a customer called, they entered the information directly into Excel. Otherwise, they simply wrote the information onto printed versions of the form. As for records, they filed printouts of the invoices alphabetically. "It was meaningless and hard to handle," admits Harrell.
So the Harrells sat down and thought about what they really wanted to change. In the early days they had no idea where their customers came from or what they ordered on a regular basis. Therefore, a customer database was high on their list of priorities. They also needed to process orders, track inventory, write and store form letters, and link to a general-ledger program and credit-approval system. The Harrells looked at several programs and selected Mail Order Manager, which we'll call MOM, a customer relationship management and accounting system from Dydacomp in Montville, N.J. The program has played a major role in Harrell Farms' 300 percent revenue growth over the past year.
The demo allowed them to perform a few sample tasks, such as forming a short customer database. It was clean, straightforward, and easy to follow. Installation was just as easy. The Harrells simply placed the CD in their PC and hit "run." Learning the program was another story. Because Dydacomp provides no training, the Harrells were left to explore on their own. Although MOM has a graphical user interface, Bob says it's so vast that he is still learning some of the more complicated features. Still, he's satisfied with the choice.
"This program, or one like it, would have been necessary in order for us to build our business. It's that basic," says Harrell. "We're a small business, but we're enjoying some pretty significant growth. The reason is that we can handle the data and the customer information very well. That makes a difference in a small business like ours; to be able to compete in the big scheme of things."
HELP FROM MOM
Customer management is one of the features the Harrells like best. They can punch in a customer's name, zip code, or phone number to quickly access that customer's profile. The profile gives them an order history for that customer, as well as personal information, such as the names of family members, hobbies, and gifts they buy each year.
"When a customer calls in, we know what they're accustomed to order," says Harrell. "That helps us to have a better rapport with our customers. They feel that we're more on top of the business. Some of them are very surprised to realize that we remember them"
The software's customer management feature also allows the Harrells to easily send out catalogs and create customized letters. They can design a profile of their ideal customer for marketing purposes. The order-entry process picks up from there. Operators enter customer orders, calculate shipping charges, and enter payment information. They can also look up products by stock code, description, price, or color, and track back orders. The optional Interactive Credit Card Authorization System enables them to approve credit card transactions directly through their bank via a modem.
The order processing and fulfillment feature allows the Harrells and their staff to track each order, print invoices and other paperwork, and process orders from multiple parties. The Automatic Shipping Calculations Module simplifies the shipping process by interfacing with the shipping software of the U.S. Postal Service and other major carriers.
Purchasing functions enable Harrell Farms to track any purchases it makes, while the accounting function tracks accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory evaluation, and sales tax reporting. It also interfaces with Peachtree, the farm's general ledger program.T
THE ONLINE FACTOR
Dydacomp hasn't ignored the importance of the Internet in this equation. About 18 months ago it introduced SiteLINK, an optional module that builds an online store using the information users set up in MOM. The Harrells weren't interested. They chose to hire an independent Web designer to build their online store.
"Mail Order Manager is wonderful. The technical support is not so wonderful," says Harrell. "Realizing the lack of technical support from the Dydacomp people, I didn't think I wanted to do a Web site with them." The Harrell Farms site, harrellfarms.com, does not interface with MOM. However, the program the Harrells use to verify customers' credit information, ICVerify, does. Working from MOM, the Harrells can send that information via modem to ICVerify for verification and an authorization number. While orders placed online are not automatically sent to MOM, they can be downloaded into Excel and then imported into the program.
The Harrells' Web strategy seems to have paid off. Although Harrell won't release actual numbers, he says that sales have been good and the number of visits has been "huge."
THE BOTTOM LINE
MOM's features played the primary role in the Harrells' decision to go with the system, but the low price certainly didn't hurt. They paid about $3,500 for the basic package and a sampling of optional modules on three workstations.
So for Harrell Farms, opting to make the jump to call center automation software was simple. "If you're going to go into business you can't keep it in a shoe box," says Harrell. "In order to do it well and accurately, and to know what you're doing, you must have some kind of organized system. It's hard to find what's in the shoe box, but with a computer it's instant."
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