Electronics, Web Empower Customer Relationships

Nov. 8, 2006
Companies increasingly relate to customers through the Web—from first contact to product delivery and beyond. Today’s well-executed customer relationship management (CRM) demands this connectivity to foster new client relationships and preserve existing ones.
For instance, Yokogawa Corp. of America (YCA, www.yokogawa.com/us) uses an online store for direct public sales, and individual Web portals for its affiliated distributors. Online, YCA accentuates test-and-measurement equipment and parts that clients can buy in volume, explains Bruce Jensen, manager of systems marketing and sales support, located in Sugar Land, Texas. But because YCA has yet to put much industrial automation instrumentation online, end-users consult with account managers or distributors for those needs. “They’d send a purchase order to account managers or distributors,” he explains. The latter access YCA via individual Web portals, connected to YCA’s intranet, that allow order tracking including delivery schedules. On Yokogawa’s horizon is a CRM-specific Web site. “It’ll be designed for our direct sales people, so we can track leads and customer contacts—and track orders from proposal stage through delivery,” Jensen explains. Why? “We just need to service our clients better, so we can get things out the door more quickly, and understand and execute our business processes better.”Client portalsWith three global refining and/or petrochemicals customers, Yokogawa has done just that for the past two years through individual client-specific portals, managed by parent Yokogawa Electric Corp.’s Tokyo-based major-accounts group.
“It was [created] so communications [for the companies] can be equalized through all their business, not just through our account managers,” Jensen says. “We try to keep the latest information out there, such as specifications sheets and current projects, so if a person on one site is doing a similar project, he’ll know what’s going on.” Each client has hundreds of members—management, procurement, plant technical staff, corporate executives, corporate support staff and others—having access to portals through individual identification (ID) codes, he adds.
Balluff North America (www.balluff.com/Balluff/us), an industrial sensor supplier, has no preferential customers list, but has account managers who handle relations and ensure product orders and delivery for bigger clients, reveals Kevin Connor, information technology (IT) manager for Balluff’s North American operations, headquartered in Florence, Ky. “We treat all customers equally,” he emphasizes. “Electronically, for us on the IT side, whether you place an order for one sensor or a thousand, it doesn’t look very different.” Otherwise, Neuhausen, Germany-based Balluff GmbH (www.balluff.com) connects or will connect to its clientele as Yokogawa does with its clients. Though it has no online store now, Balluff will in 2007, Connor notes. For its distributors, which the company considers its business partners, individual Web portals exist now, so they can daily access real-time data. “They can do self-service applications, get prices and product availabilities,” he explains about that confidential information. “When they get price and availability, it’s contingent on [geographic] locations. If a special project is going on, we may have special pricing or delivery systems.” Of Balluff’s distributors, larger ones use electronic data interchange (EDI) now, Connor adds. Orders that come via EDI enter the enterprise resource planning system, which is provided by SAP AG. Once processed, orders get acknowledged via SAP. “When the order is shipped, we do the invoice via EDI,” he states. For customers without EDI, there’s a call center. So, again, why do global suppliers use electronics to connect with clients? “It makes business easier and more efficient for our customers and for us,” Connor states. But, he adds, “The relationship may start with one particular project engineer calling us up to get a solution.” C. Kenna Amos,