In Part 3 of our case study series, we focus on how technology has enabled Arpal Group to improve, track and measure site service performance, with particular emphasis on the use of Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID). Leveraging the full potential of digital technology has become critical to Arpal Group maintaining its position as the outstanding provider of service in our industry.
Back in the day when RP Adam Ltd was a direct selling company, territory based sales representatives prospected, opened new accounts and took orders from existing customers on a milk round basis, usually based on a 20 day call plan with site reports completed on triplicate pads.
Under this traditional, pre-Internet model, field sales personnel were left to manage their own time and territory customer base. This required layers of sales management support and end-of-day phone calls providing updates on the days’ activities.
With the seismic move from a direct selling to distributor sales model, the focus of the business shifted from smaller independent customers to supplying large national chains. This required a major shift in strategy, from supporting a team of regional order takers to providing outstanding customer service.
As a result of this move, the business grew rapidly. Today, we serve thousands of customer sites across the UK using our cleaning and disinfection products, but also the dosing equipment required to dispense these products correctly and cost effectively.
As our customer service excellence mantra became one of the key pillars of our core competencies, we soon discovered two important things:
First, there was a significant gap emerging between the dosing assets we could account for on file and what actually existed on customers’ premises.
Second, we needed to start tracking and measuring whether our field Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) were actually carrying out their scheduled monthly site visits correctly. We needed to prove our outstanding service claim – apparently ‘everyone provides service excellence’.
Playing with Digital
Until 2008, all customer service and sales activities were done manually, involving an inordinate amount of phone calls and paperwork. Literally, thousands of pieces of paper were stacked in piles in our sales office waiting to be reviewed.
With the dawn of the digital era, it became apparent that we had to embrace a digital platform to asset track our equipment and more importantly, to measure our site service level competency and KPIs.
We began to ‘play’ with digital technology introducing the “Magic Pen” – a Paul Daniels solution which involved handwriting in ink on specially encoded paper. The pen would then, by magic, instantly transmit the written form as a PDF to our head office via a mobile phone.
Well, that was the idea, but with reliability depending on patchy mobile networks at the time, the Magic Pen was one of those great ideas ahead of its time.
While unsuccessful, our digital journey had begun, with digital reporting soon becoming a Russian doll, with more and more features and benefits unveiling themselves as technology became better, faster and more reliable.
We realised that IT, used properly, could make us more efficient AND improve service delivery quality.
2012 and enter Radio Frequency Identification technology – RFID.
Have you ever accidentally walked out of a store with an item of clothing and the alarm blares at the door, because the tag has not been removed? That’s RFID – the wireless use of electromagnetic fields to digitally transfer data by automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to objects.
By adopting this technology, we place an initial ‘Welcome Tag’ in a discrete area on the customers’ site. This contains a pre-loaded log of site details showing the visiting CSR a digital map of all areas with tagged dosing equipment.
This is especially important for large sites such as hospitals, holiday resorts and airports. It ensures that the CSR reaches and checks all critical areas of the site in as short a time as possible, allowing more calls per day.
The CSR checks all dosing equipment on site, ensuring that all dose levels are correct, that the right products and quantities are being used with good results being produced.
Once verified, the RFID tags are simply scanned by our CSRs using mobile phones, with the date, time and location logged and all information processed by our head office Customer Care Team.
By placing these specially encoded tags on all free-on-loan electronic and manual chemical dosing equipment, we can guarantee that all key areas are checked in an organised and disciplined way.
Initially the RFID system was to help us control our own free-on-loan dosing inventory. Over time, however, this has expanded into a system that provides huge benefits to our customers too. We are able to verify that the CSR team have definitely been on site, by time and site location, and that both dosing systems and site stock levels have been properly checked.
The result of this practice means that any issues can be reported immediately, reducing the number of emergency engineer call outs and the amount of capital being tied up in customer store cupboards.
Since installation of the technology, ad-hoc engineering call-outs have been reduced by over 40%. This has allowed us to eliminate waiting times, providing a best-in-class response service.
A major benefit for customers is ensuring that cash is not tied up in unnecessarily high stock levels. By directing the CSR to the encoded tag at our customers’ store cupboard, they can check and report on stock levels on each visit, record information through our bespoke ‘Stock App’ which has been embedded within the Digital Visit Report on the CSR tablet. This is then sent to our Inventory Controller at Head Office.
All jobs are recorded, photographed and emailed to an appropriate person in real time, with immediate steps taken to rectify any problems. Utilisation of this technology has led to a significant increase in productivity, efficiency and a consistently high level of customer service.
Our Head Office team uses the information collated to build accurate real-time customer service profiles allowing for more preventative maintenance to take place. This ensures smart, instant allocation of resources to sites that need it the most.
This system demands that the Digital Visit Report produced by the CSR highlights any material deficiencies with the equipment. It also requires that our CSR either fix it there and then or processes a follow-up engineering request through our engineering department.
In short, it ensures our national CSR team are proactively changing worn tubing on laundry and dish wash installations, checking pump heads are working to optimum efficiency, and calibrating units to ensure optimum performance.
The technology allows us to provide detailed reports to customers explaining exactly what machinery is on each site, its state of health and what we did in the call to add value. The system monitors how long site visits actually take, allowing CSRs to plan their work day more efficiently.
We have developed a Digital Call Planner for our national service team providing a map of where each job is, including the best road or public transport route to take. In terms of internal and external benefits, the overall efficiency of our CSR workforce has increased by 22%, covering more than 300 calls per month compared with the previous year.
The use of RFID technology not only provides peace of mind to our own management and customers, it gives transparency over what work is being carried out and when, ensuring that our service promises are consistently maintained.
However, we cannot stand still, continually investing and improving our digital communications platform to constantly improve the client support package delivered by our field CSRs.
We will continue to publish new case studies covering systems innovation, core competencies and operational capabilities within Arpal Group.
Previously published case studies include the development of SafeLink™ incorporated into Duotek automatic dishwashing products and our range of Arpax SC super concentrates; and the effective management of multi-site roll outs.