Ironically, the first New Zealand site to use IBM’s Net.Commerce server software for a major project is not using it for commerce in the traditional sense of selling products over the Internet — but for customer service.
Auckland-based IT reseller Axon Computertime has developed an “electronic commerce” system so customers can access information including product and price lists, outstanding orders, service call status and invoice statements.
By entering the password online, authorised customers can check the estimated delivery date, how many PCs or printers they’ve ordered, when they ordered them or review recent invoices.
In the future, Axon customers will also be able to enter orders, log service calls, check for product availability and analyse service levels.
Axon has held off from having a presence on the Web, but has spent the past 18 months re-engineering the business, retraining and redeploying staff, putting in a data repository from which the Web site draws information, getting suppliers to automatically provide information on pricing and availability and, finally, developing a front-end Internet application.
Axon has spent more than $1 million on technology but believes it will claw back $100,000 a year through a 40% reduction in phone calls. The value of improved customer service is more difficult to quantify but Axon management believes customer satisfaction today will have an impact on revenue tomorrow.
“Why have a Web site if it doesn’t give any value?” asks Axon marketing manager Scott Green. “What’s the point of putting catalogues and brochures on the Web if it’s not actually helping customers? Why make your brochures available to the whole world if you don’t want to do business with the whole world at this stage?”
Instead of the “all-out” approach, during the next two months Axon is making its Web site available to its top 200 customers only.
Claudio Ghirelli, PC and networks manager at one of Axon’s key customers, DB Breweries, says Axon’s Web site will save him time in a number of areas. “We spend a lot of time tracking invoices and reconciling statements. I am sure if we had that information online I could give the accounts department the URL and get them to find it.
“I also spend a lot of time querying prices. For a large order I could spend two to three days getting all the bits and pieces. It would be nice to look up what I want and if I saw that a product wasn’t going to be available for three weeks I could look at using something else.”
Axon general manager Matt Kenealy says, “The whole thing is designed to reduce the cost of doing business with Axon and increase the quality of that business. At the same time, we’re getting some significant cost reductions at the back end.”
Before the e-business system, a customer’s query on an outstanding order might take a half hour to answer and involve calls to various staff and suppliers. “Now, that information is not only available in minutes, but also as current and accurate as it can be,” says Kenealy.
The system is primarily based on IBM technology — Net.Commerce, Lotus Notes/Domino as an object store for information components to the internal intranet, a DB2 database and IBM Firewall v3.1. Hardware includes an IBM RS/6000 running AIX, with IBM PC servers to run the database and Web server.
Several Axon customers are now considering the customer service system for themselves.