Blending Old-Fashioned Values With New Technology
Systems Technology Group, Inc. believes in old-fashioned ideals, such as not having a machine answer your customers' calls. But, this point of sale VAR also believes in adopting
new technology, such as e-commerce,
to stay ahead in today's market.
Customers calling Kielich's company, Systems Technology Group, Inc., (STG) of Orchard Park, NY, are often pleasantly surprised by the human voice and the person answering the phone. While voice mail seems to be the norm in many businesses today, Kielich, president of STG believes that voice mail can be a detriment. "I was with a potential customer who told me he was frustrated with voice mail systems," says Kielich. "When the customer called STG, a person, not a computer, answered." This customer, while still with Kielich, called an STG competitor and reached a voice mail system. "The customer hung up the phone, and we ended up making the sale," says Kielich. "This had a huge impact on me. It convinced me that having a person answer the phone during the day is extremely important."
While he may eschew voice mail, Kielich is enough of a realist to know that technology also benefits his business. "All of our employees use palmtop computers, which are uploaded every night into our centralized database," he says. "Voice mail is used internally, with one caveat: all calls must be returned the same day that they are received."
Today, STG has installations in 11 states and many in Canada. "We're located outside of Buffalo, NY, and less than an hour's drive from the Canadian border, so it makes sense to expand into Canada," says Kielich. STG has 19 employees who sell and service POS systems in the hospitality, specialty retail, C-store, and school lunch markets. Kielich projects 1999 gross sales to top $3 million and the number of employees to rise to 25. "Much of our business comes through word of mouth," notes Kielich. "Our approach to customer service is reflected in STG's growth over the past three years." STG's customers include the Minolta Tower at Niagara Falls (Ontario, Canada), Lord Chumley's (Buffalo), and the Rochester (NY) City School District.
Five Easy Steps To Happy Customers
Having an employee, rather than a machine, answer the phone is just one method Kielich uses to guarantee his customers' satisfaction. Kielich admits that the term customer service is often a "blue sky" idea and is hard to pin down. (Don't we all want happy customers?) Kielich's definition of customer service is "consistently exceeding customers' expectations."
"STG uses a five-step process designed to meet and measure our customers' expectations," says Kielich. "We remove the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) a customer may have prior to the installation. During the installation, we monitor who is assigned to what task. After the installation, we ask the customer to grade us." Kielich outlines each step:
- Scope of work — "Our sales and support staff is vertically aligned with the markets we serve," says Kielich. "For example, STG staff handling hospitality accounts has restaurant experience. This approach is particularly helpful when the scope of work document outlining what STG will provide, along with deadlines is being prepared. Before an order is signed, we meet with the client to review the scope of work contract," says Kielich.
- Implementation guideline – When the order is accepted, STG customers sign an implementation guideline. "This document details the customers' responsibilities and STG's responsibilities," says Kielich. "It also identifies an STG project manager as well as a customer project manager to oversee the POS installation."
- Sign-off/take possession – "During the training and installation phase, we use sign-off sheets to encourage our customers to take possession of the POS system," says Kielich. "More than just physically taking possession, customers acknowledge that we have explained all the features and functions of the system so they can successfully use it."
The document used in this step requires that customers sign off on individual features of the system, such as logging in, shift changes, rerouting printers, menu changes, and changing paper. "The document also acts as a script for our technical support and training staff to ensure we complete all aspects of the training," adds Kielich. "By documenting our training procedures, we eliminate any doubt as to whether or not we have fulfilled our obligation to our customers."
- Grading the installation – "Thirty days after an installation has been completed, we ask the customer to grade our entire staff (sales, service, support)," says Kielich. "We provide our customers with preprinted survey sheets and self-addressed stamped envelopes. We track and follow up on every client survey received." While Kielich admits he loves to receive high marks, constructive criticism is more helpful to his business in the long run. "You can't take action on the glowing reviews, although they help you land business," he says. "We do ‘post mortems' as a team when an installation does not go well, analyzing where things went wrong. You can't simply sweep a problem under the rug and expect it to go away."
- Testimonials – Step five is simply an extension of the grading process. Kielich says he has a "library" of testimonials from satisfied customers. "Customers tell us how the POS system has impacted their businesses," he says. "For example, customer waiting time (for a restaurant table) decreased from 45 to 15 minutes."
Kielich says his five-step process illustrates that customer satisfaction can be "managed, measured, and delivered on a consistent basis." "Our recent installation at the Minolta Tower was a success because we followed this five-step process," says Kielich. "The installation included 11 POS terminals using NT servers and a fiber optic network. We coordinated the fiber optic network connectivity prior to the delivery of the terminals. All the equipment was staged at STG and then transported across the border into Canada. We stayed within our four-week time frame for installation, including three weeks of training. Successfully completing this installation led directly to our landing other accounts in the area, including a race track accounts that we otherwise would not have sought out because of the cost."
Beyond POS: Making The Move To New Technology
Kielich's approach to technology is simple: keep what works (having a person answer the phone), and adopt new technology (palmtops) as it fits your company's capabilities. Getting a handle on customer service is allowing Kielich to do more of the latter. With an MBA in finance to his credit, Kielich is a stickler for the forms used to track customer satisfaction. But with one area of his business solidly under control, Kielich has time to focus on technology beyond POS, namely electronic commerce (e-commerce).
"I've thought long and hard about e-commerce," says Kielich. "I looked at our core competencies – inventory management, financial transactions, electronic data interchange (EDI), and digital communications. Online ordering has broadened our geographic reach as a natural extension of those capabilities." STG was already selling POS supplies online using the Internet. "Approximately 5% - 8% of our supply business is conducted online, much of it from potential POS customers," says Kielich. "Many of our customers, especially specialty retailers, asked us if we could do the same for them set up their virtual stores."
Kielich had the in-house staff people with experience in HTML programming language to design Web sites for STG's customers. "Our investment in e-commerce included adding two additional technical staff members with SQL (structured query language) server and NT server experience," says Kielich. "We're not a big player yet; we turn hosting over to a local ISP (Internet Service Provider). Most of our e-commerce business comes from our existing customers, but the e-commerce capability is driving new business our way. Customers coming to us for e-commerce have become POS customers as well."
Kielich says e-commerce works for his hospitality customers as well as his retail customers. "We're putting menus online, and people are ordering food online," he says. While it's too soon to break down how much of STG's business is from e-commerce, Kielich is starting an e-commerce division. "There is money to be made in e-commerce," Kielich contends. "It will still go back to customers' satisfaction," states Kielich. If so, Kielich's already ahead of the game. If you're not convinced, call STG. Someone will answer the phone.