$250,000 Help Desk Investment Pays Off
HSI, a $16 million hospitality VAR, made a major investment in its new help desk facility and system. The company expects revenues to double this year, due in part to revenues generated from the updated and expanded help desk.
HSI (Boca Raton, FL) provides POS systems to fine dining and casual dining restaurants, as well as to resorts, across the country. HSI's customers include five-star resorts, such as The Greenbriar, as well as restaurant chains, such as Chart House Restaurants, Tony Roma's and Rainforest Café.
In 1992, when Carlson cofounded HSI, the help desk consisted of two employees and a paging system. Today, the help desk employs 27 customer service representatives (CSRs) who answer calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "Our help desk is an essential part of our business," says Carlson. In 1998, HSI reported gross sales of $16 million. (When Business Solutions first profiled HSI in October, 1997, its revenues were $14 million.) Carlson expects to double HSI's revenues in 1999, due in part to sales and service generated through the help desk. Carlson's five-year goal is to increase HSI's annual sales revenues to $200 million.
Choosing Help Desk System Is No Easy Task
To keep pace with his company's growth and customer demand, Carlson invested $250,000 in a state-of-the-art help desk department. It included a complete renovation of HSI's existing facility. Carlson says it was his customers who prompted him to make such a large investment. "We service restaurant and hotel customers, many of which operate 24 hours a day," explains Carlson.
While he believes in the benefits the new system provides, including added revenues and improved customer service, Carlson says getting to this point was no easy task. Carlson asked HSI's Director of Customer Service, Chris Stathis, for assistance. "We learned that the CSRs did not have a comfortable working environment," says Carlson. To remedy this, walls were removed between help desk stations and replaced with low-rise partitions. Modular furniture was added to further modernize the facility. The result was a more open feel, according to Carlson. Stathis points out that the updated facility encourages CSRs to share support call information with each other. The new facility has also helped HSI attract and retain a higher level of support personnel, according to Stathis.
Evaluating Service Software
Carlson, whose company develops POS software, evaluated 40 different service software programs before selecting one for HSI. "We reviewed software demos and looked at proposals over the course of several weeks," Carlson explains. Some evaluations were done using the Internet. In the end, four packages were chosen for final evaluation. The four finalist companies were invited to HSI. "Each company had to provide a complete product demo and respond to our requirement checklist," says Carlson. HSI also requested customer references, preferably customers within HSI's Boca Raton, FL area. "The idea was to solicit firsthand feedback on the product," explains Carlson.
In the end, HSI selected Magic Solutions' Support Magic (now Network Associates). "It had the features we were looking for, including a fast search engine, a Web interface, inventory tracking capabilities, and customizable screens," says Carlson.
The software also has escalation schemes. This enhancement alerts specific managers via e-mail or pager that a call has been logged to a particular site. "Extensive reporting capabilities enable us to produce call summaries periodically. We e-mail these to our customers so they have a record of their service calls," explains Carlson. The Web interface allows HSI's sales and service personnel to access the database of customer calls. Salespeople can then review the status of their customers' service issues.
New System Required Minimal Training
To prepare for the new system's implementation, Chris Stathis attended one week of training in Atlanta, along with HSI's director of operations. Stathis, in turn, was responsible for training the help desk staff. "New CSRs can learn the basic functionality of the system in less than one hour," says Carlson. "They can answer calls from customers within one day."
Installing the new system involved customizing the HSI database and data entry screens. Once those functions were completed, the application was ready for implementation. "The CSRs simply closed their old help desk application, clicked on the Magic Solution's icon and launched the new software. They began entering new calls immediately," explains Carlson.
When HSI customers call the help desk, their calls are routed to the first available CSR, explains Carlson. If all the CSRs are speaking with customers, a dispatcher takes the call. The dispatcher enters the caller's information into the computerized system. The call is then put into a queue and assigned a level of urgency. A CSR, for example, would respond to a call about a down POS system before responding to a general question. If CSRs cannot quickly resolve a customer's service problem, the details are documented and forwarded to a specialist.
Help Desk Generates Revenue
Has the new system been worth the expense? Carlson says yes. "We've already realized a return on our investment in the form of improved tracking and accountability of our customers' service issues," says Carlson. "The volume of calls we handle today would have crippled our old system." The service reports generated by the new system have also proved valuable.
In addition to supporting HSI customers under contract, the help desk provides telephone support at an hourly, billable rate. The help desk generates additional revenue for HSI by several other means. Customers call the help desk for operating system upgrades, customization of customer databases, credit card vendor switches and POS software upgrades.
HSI also offers on-site troubleshooting and support of POS hardware and software by systems engineers. The help desk serves as a clearinghouse for ordering and dispatching these services to HSI customers, explains Carlson. "CSRs also place courtesy calls to all of our new installation sites. All of our customers literally interface with our help desk," says Carlson. "Offering such services allows us to remain competitive in the hospitality market," he says.