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Building a platform for digital transformation with Microsoft Dynamics 365
CARTERS has been providing supplies, products and services to New Zealand builders and renovators for over 150 years. It now has a nationwide network of 59 branches and manufacturing plants and is also one of the country's largest commercial frame and truss manufacturers.
The company runs a Plan-to-Invoice estimation and delivery service to make sure customers’ jobs run smoothly. This means handling multiple interactions with their builder-customers over a period of days, sometimes weeks. Historically this has been a manual process – susceptible to errors and delays.
The Plan-to-Invoice process spans the life of a construction project - from paper plans, estimating, detailing and manufacturing, to getting products on site - and involves 60-70% of CARTERS’ workforce in some way. Late deliveries, incorrect quantities or missing materials must be avoided at all costs, because that takes builders away from their work, erodes their relationship with CARTERS, and reduces the likelihood of repeat business.
On top of that, builders want on-the-spot answers from their account manager about their account status, back-orders, deliveries, estimates, and loyalty programme points.
The best place for CARTERS’ account managers to engage directly with customers is on site, but under the old system the information they needed was only accessible from the office – or from paperwork kept in their company ute. “I’ll get back to you,” was a typical response to a builder’s query.
Account managers spent much of their day fighting paperwork and delving through different software systems to find customer data, plans and estimates. One account manager said he was tied to his desk for up to 70% of each day.
Cold-calling prospects on construction sites is an essential part of the job, but the manual system couldn’t tell staff members if a builder was already a customer or not. It was all too easy to accidentally prospect an existing customer.
One account manager with 35 years' experience even worried about retiring. Would his customers be looked after properly once he was gone? Would they have to start from scratch with someone who didn't know their business?
CARTERS’ account managers wanted to work professionally in a competitive industry, and deserved a system to match their skills and experience.
CARTERS’ company ambitions included B2B ecommerce, data-driven customer insights and personal digital engagement to supplement in-person engagement. But paper-based processes and siloed data made these goals unachievable.
Jonathan Iles, CARTERS’ CIO said, “Our people wanted to work better and smarter. Who wants to be inefficient, waste their time or have to work with laborious manual processes when they can have something that’s quick and accurate (and digital)?”
Iles and his team wanted to create a ‘Platform for Growth’ and embrace a process of complete transformation. Taking a holistic approach gave CARTERS a massive opportunity to stand out from their competitors by offering superior service and improved operational efficiency.
CARTERS went to market in 2017 and chose Microsoft Dynamics 365 as the backbone of the new solution knowing that it would allow them to create and deploy solutions to the business in rapid iterations.
Fusion5 were engaged to deliver the Dynamics 365 and Resco mobile work components. Iles had worked with Fusion5 before, so knew they were genuinely invested in the success of CARTERS’ digital transformation.
The Platform for Growth uses Microsoft Dynamics 365 at its core to support 750 system users. SharePoint Online enables large documents such as building plans to be held against customer and job records. Microsoft Azure and BizTalk connect data and systems together and help ensure data integrity and quality. CARTERS’ existing K2 smart forms solution manages complex estimation and detailing processes, while Resco mobile takes Dynamics 365 to the road. PowerBI is used to gain insight into job performance at every stage of the process and the time being spent by staff completing tasks related to the job. It helps detect anomalies and identify issues in the business early, before having an impact on customers.
There were issues across the Plan-to-Invoice process to resolve, as well as defining and applying best practices, and creating an enterprise integration and workflow platform spanning multiple underlying systems.
The new platform needed to automate complex business processes, support CARTERS’ back-office staff, and give account managers (whether mobile, on- or off-line) a single point of access to customer and job information. It had to integrate with existing and new systems to guarantee high data and document quality and maintain a single version of the truth across multiple business systems.
“One of our objectives was to come up with a way to differentiate us from our competition,” says Josh George, CARTERS’ General Manager – Sales. “Everyone has great products and great people. We realised we really needed to invest in technology to help our people make quick decisions in the field and grab information relevant to our customers.”
The solution successfully transformed the CARTERS’ Plan-to-Invoice process, and radically improved their team members’ engagement with customers.
“In terms of sales autonomy, this is the biggest step CARTERS has made,” says Iles. “When I previously went out with sales people, I saw they were tied to the branch or to files of paper. Now they go straight from home to site, feeling prepared and professional.”
Account managers are now able to use their iPads to plan their entire work day, record notes and activities while on site with builders, check the status of orders, jobs, estimates, delivery timeframes and even check customers' financial accounts. This delights account managers and customers alike. “Real-time info increases my level of professionalism,” says one account manager, “I’m their building partner right there and then, in the moment.”
“The CRM function helps me to plan my day. I can see my customers geographically and organise my call cycle much more efficiently,” says another. “Onsite, I can pull up a customer’s plans to show him what he’s going to need next for his project and confirm that the items are in stock. Without CRM I couldn’t have shown him that and wouldn’t have gotten that sale. And zooming in on digitised plans is great – it saves carrying round copies of everyone’s plans in the truck! It’s transformed my day-to-day tasks in the most amazing way. It’s cut out about an hour a day on the phone to the branch – all the customer info is in my hands when I need it.”
Account managers report a 10-20% increase in personal productivity, greatly improved autonomy and reduced reporting time and effort. They’ve almost doubled the amount of time they spend on site – and their customers are loving it.
“The solution resolved our operational challenges,” says George. “The biggest advantage is that our account managers can answer questions on site, face-to-face. Previously, it could be hours before the customer got an answer. It’s created a lot of efficiency in the business.”
Account managers can upload customer data to the CRM as soon as they leave the site, says George. “That means sales and internal staff can see the same information. It cuts down on errors and also ensures tasks are assigned and followed up in a timely manner.”
George says the solution greatly increased his team's productivity and provides him with immediate visibility of what team members are doing day-to-day, what they’re selling, and to whom.
And unproductive cold-calls are a thing of the past. Account managers can see if a prospect has an account with CARTERS, the last time they made a purchase or interacted with the business, and if they’re a member of the loyalty programme. “It’s a great way to start a conversation with someone we haven’t spoken to in some time,” says George.
Customers can plan what they need and when, and can coordinate directly with the wider CARTERS team. "Now everyone can see,” says one very happy account manager. “Our competitors can't do that.”
“Our customers are seeing a much-improved service,” says George. “Our employees feel more confident, and it’s proved to be a very effective tool in acquiring new talent to fill recruitment opportunities. Our senior management is getting accurate reporting that wasn’t available to them previously.”
SLAs are tracked through the system and tasks are automatically assigned to the right people at the right time. Internal teams progress estimates and detailing, which is surfaced to account managers via Dynamics 365.
Headquarters can immediately flag if an account or a job is put on hold, so account managers avoid wasting time on unlikely prospects.
Reporting has drastically improved. Dynamics 365 and - increasingly - Power BI, replaced manual reporting (via hundreds of Word documents). Data and insight are now available in one place, in real-time and on request.
“One of the biggest changes is in how we approach sales management,” says George. “The previous system had our sales managers manually running up to a dozen reports for each account manager. With a sales force of around 150, that was very laborious. The new platform gathers all the necessary information into one place. We can run reports in real-time, whenever we want, and get the data we need to support our sales management capability.”
CARTERS’ Platform for Growth project has revolutionised everyday work for much of the company.
Iles says “successfully reengineering and digitising such a core business process has significantly empowered employees.”
“We’ve helped them improve customer service and customer retention. It’s almost impossible to join the dots between application and EBITDA, but our people report a 10-20% increase in productivity. We changed from an archaic black box system where no-one knew what was going on, to this incredibly transparent and highly visible process.”
And with such a massive and successful digital transformation under their belt, CARTERS and Fusion5 are continuing to work together. “Fusion5 has delivered the goods,” says Iles. “Understanding our business, working with us, being part of our team and staying relevant to our team is really important. Fusion5 scored well.”
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