For cellular service provider Cingular Wireless Corp., being swamped with calls from new customers asking about handset features, calling plans and phone bills was normal.
In fact, according to officials at the Atlanta-based company, up until a year and a half ago, 60 percent of all new customers called the Cingular customer service center within the first 60 days of having their accounts activated with questions about their bill, contracts or features.
"We had a bit of a challenge," said John Hedges, director of sales automation for Cingular. "There are so many things to consider with new accounts: handsets, rate plans, three-way calling, setting up voice mail, where you can use your rate plan. A lot of information is being handed out at point of sale."
And when you consider that Cingular averages about 3 million new activations per year—each call into customer service costing about $6 and lasting about 10 minutes—the strain on staff and costs was constant. Even worse still, Cingular believed the lengthy 10-minute calls were causing untold numbers of potential customers to hang up.
Cingulars mission was clear. It had to cut down on the number of calls coming in and their length of time. To do that, it had to get customers the information they sought more quickly and efficiently.
After conducting several focus groups with its customer operations staff to identify customers main concerns, the company determined that information was needed directly at the POS, or point of sale.
What Cingular did next was unique to the retail industry. The company decided it would print out personalized documents with the appropriate billing, calling plans, coverage areas and handset feature information for each new customer upon purchase and at the register.
But deciding on and then executing the plan are two different things. To help it deploy the right hardware to produce these documents in its nationwide retail stores, Cingular turned to fellow Georgia company and longtime partner in tech, ProSys Information Systems Inc., in Norcross.
"We already had a good working relationship with ProSys. They know our business and how we do things, so when we say, West region or East region, they know exactly what that means," said Hedges.
Cingulars main priorities for its POS printers were color, duplexing, price and, above all, speed. Hedges team initially thought that 4 minutes was a reasonable time for printing out service summaries for customers. But Cingular executives insisted the process had to take less than a minute.
"Without anyone specifically saying so, jobs were being placed on the chopping block if that wasnt delivered," said Hedges.
Based on these factors and ProSys guidance, Cingular chose to outfit its retail stores with Xerox Corp.s Phaser 6250 color laser printers.
Cingular met its goal. "Ive seen it myself—from the time you press print to the time to pick it up is 20 seconds, but the average is about 30 to 45 seconds," said Hedges.
Xerox lists the machines speed at 26 ppm (pages per minute) for color and monochrome, with the first page printing out in 12 seconds.
"We wanted documents that were specific to customer selections with the customers name on it, and we wanted it printed automatically, in less than a minute, and very easy to understand. Carriers are notorious for making things sound complicated," Hedges said. "In fact, the code name for this project was Peter Rabbit because we wanted it to be that easy to read."