Not A Typical VAR
CynterCorp has more than 1,000 employees and provides services to over 14,000 sites. Technology services such as computer telephony and Web-based training enable this company to attract Fortune 500 customers.
Rob Grimes is not typical of the VARs profiled in Business Solutions. In fact, he doesn't consider himself a VAR at all. He's more of a systems integrator, but that title doesn't paint a true picture of Grimes - or his company - either. Grimes is CEO and chairman of CynterCorp (Rockville, MD), the management company that operates Grimes' affiliated companies: Cyntergy, CynterCon, CynterShow, CynterPubs, CynterNet, and CynterSource.
Grimes' career started at Marriott, where he spent 10 years working in the Information Systems Division. During that time, Grimes saw the Marriott's information systems becoming more complex. According to Grimes, there was a support services niche market waiting to be filled. In 1988, he started Strategic Technology Services (STS), which would later become CynterCorp. His goal was to provide the needed technology support services to the hospitality market.
If the name Cyntergy rings a bell, it may be because Grimes helped found the annual FS/TEC trade show for the foodservice industry. CynterCorp, with more than 1,000 employees, has provided services to more than 14,000 sites. The company has offices in major cities worldwide, including London and Hong Kong. CynterCorp's Fortune 500 customers include Marriott, Hilton, and Cendent hotels, Applebee's restaurants, and The Gap stores.
Offering A State-Of-The-Art Call Center
"We started out as a training and education company," says Grimes. "Later we added the call center support and consulting." In 1999, CynterCorp invested in a new, state-of-the-art, in-house technology training center. "We had a call center, but we needed more space and more connection to the Internet," says Grimes about the newly built center. "We went from a 23,000-square-foot facility to a 65,000-square-foot facility."
More than 250 employees man the training center, answering thousands of calls every day. Grimes likens the center's operations to a triangle - three sides, all equally important. "One side of the triangle represents operations knowledge - how customers making the calls are using the POS systems," explains Grimes. "Generic systems knowledge is another side of the triangle. For example, most retail stores' front end operations are very similar." To win more end user business, Grimes concentrates on the third side of the triangle — specific nuances of his customers' businesses. Most of the call center employees have an operational background, meaning they've worked in a hotel, retail store, or restaurant. "Approximately 80% of our customers' problems are resolved during the first phone call," states Grimes. He adds that it's important to be a single point of contact for your customers. "You don't want your customers calling individual vendors for support," he says. "Vendors are now using us to support their other customers. The customers don't know the difference. When they call us, it is as if they are talking to the vendor. When you control the contact, you have more control over the customer."
More Than Telephones
CynterCorp's call center is more than phones. "Because we built the facility, we could upgrade both our space and our technology," notes Grimes. "We had been using call center software. Now we are using computer telephony." (Computer telephony refers to computer hardware and software that performs functions traditionally performed by telephone equipment.) "Call center employees recreate and solve customers' POS software problems remotely," adds Grimes.
As part of the new computerized phone system, Grimes had new backup systems installed. "As a result, the call center can run for days during a complete power shutdown," says Grimes. He guarantees his customers' calls will be answered within a specific period of time, depending on the type of support agreement purchased. An embedded help feature offers on-screen prompts to walk call center employees through common system problems. An embedded frequently asked questions (FAQ) screen also guides support staff through more routine calls.
Add Training, Boost Sales
One way to keep the volume of support calls down is by having well-trained end users. "You don't want your customers to substitute the help desk for training," notes Grimes. The Cyntergy Division provides its customers with training materials in various formats, from stand-up training to Web-based training. "Training content can remain the same, regardless of the delivery method," explains Grimes. Stand-up training is a more conventional classroom, or "train the trainer" approach. This type of training is most effective in markets with high turnover, such as hospitality, foodservice, and retail, notes Grimes. CynterCorp also develops full-motion training materials for delivery via the Internet, on CD-ROMs, or embedded into computer programs. "We have customers using training materials that we host and ‘push' over the Internet," notes Grimes. The company also develops training manuals, in both paper and online forms.
Regardless of how he is known - through FS/TEC, as a VAR, or as CEO and chairman of CynterCorp, Grimes remains a recognizable face in the POS industry. "From the outside looking in, people might say CynterCorp's done tremendously well in a short period of time," admits Grimes. "But when it's your company, you have different expectations. I never envisioned developing some of our affiliated companies when we first started out, such as FS/TEC or the newsletter business. They've turned out to be very good areas to be in." Does Grimes have any advice for VARs or systems integrators regarding the value of customer support? "If you can't do it yourself, contract with another company," advises Grimes. "We don't do on-site maintenance, and we don't install telephone systems. We outsource those services. I practice what I preach."
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at LisaK@corrypub.com.