Manufacturers and distributors that have highly configurable products face a big challenge in taking customer orders. Typically, they have to live with the time their CSRs (customer service representatives) and sales representatives spend following up with customers and re-explaining why certain steps in the order were incorrect.
HME (home medical equipment) provider Invacare (Elyria, OH) found itself in this predicament. Almost every product that Invacare manufactures and distributes to its 25,000 dealers - mostly home healthcare providers - is customized. This creates thousands of configuration possibilities. For example, an order for a wheelchair includes variables like size of wheels, types of arms, and motorization. And within each of these options, there are about 20 more choices to be made.
Prior to July 2001, Invacare conveyed these choices in a six-page order form. Because many of Invacare's customers visit clients during the workday, orders typically arrive before or after Invacare's call center opens each day. Once the Invacare CSR gets the order from the fax machine, checks it over, discovers an error, and follows up with the customer, it might be more than a full day later that the order is corrected and placed again. "The paper form is very one-dimensional," says Steve Neese, VP of e-commerce at Invacare. "We were getting a high percentage of order forms that were filled out incorrectly, which meant that our CSRs had to call customers and try to track them down to correct the order forms." If an order ships out a day or two later than originally expected, because a CSR couldn't track down a customer to correct an order, it could mean that the client who needs the product might have to stay an extra day or two in the hospital.
Online Intelligence Replaces Faxing
Invacare looked into a Web initiative that would allow its customers to look at products and place orders online, while still handling Invacare's configurable products. After six months of due diligence, the company chose Selectica's (San Jose, CA) Interactive Selling System (ISS). "One of the key differentials with Selectica was that it was a Java-based software solution," recalls Neese. "The importance of using a Java-based solution was that customers wouldn't be required to download software onto their desktops to do online business with us." The second feature that set Selectica's ISS apart was its ability to integrate to Invacare's legacy system. "Our back end legacy order entry database is programmed in COBOL (common business oriented language), runs on a UNIX platform, and uses a DOS format," says Neese. While the legacy system would not have worked well for customers, Invacare's CSRs were used to the legacy system. Also, the system contained a complicated pricing configuration tool that was an important part of Invacare's daily business. "Someday, we may migrate all our enterprise applications to a Windows XP environment, but for now the interface we use is sufficient," says Neese.
CRM Teams Up With Content Management
At the same time Invacare was rolling out its online order configuration system, it rolled out BroadVision (Redwood City, CA) Business Commerce for e-commerce functionality and BroadVision One-To-One Publishing for content management.
With the online solution in place, customers enter the site via a pass code. Next, the BroadVision solution takes them to a page that shows them products similar to the ones they ordered previously in an attempt to up-sell or cross-sell them. After making their decision, customers are taken to a secure online ordering form that helps them fill out the form correctly. As the customer selects options, the configuration tool dynamically changes each subsequent set of choices. If a wrong choice is made, a message alerts the customer to the correct options. After the order is complete, the ISS sends the data to the back end system where the pricing is calculated. Customers then pay for their orders online, or they can have Invacare bill them. Customers can also go online to check order and shipping status.
Since its implementation in July 2001, Invacare's e-commerce site has recorded millions in sales each month and will play a significant part in Invacare's expected 30% sales growth by the end of 2002. Additionally, in less than 12 months, the Selectica ISS and BroadVision's e-commerce and content management applications have paid for themselves. Besides enabling customers to place accurate orders 24/7, Invacare can focus on selling its products. "Our sales reps used to spend a lot of time tracking customer orders and answering questions about clients' credit availability," says Neese. "Now, they can use their time more effectively by demonstrating our newest products to our clients." Salespeople also have the luxury of accessing customer data from the road by accessing Invacare's site.