POS Printing Rings True for Cingular

By Shelley Solheim  |  Posted 2004-10-11

POS Printing Rings True for Cingular

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.

Microsoft is testing a new version of Windows aimed at the retail market. Click here to read more.

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."

Next page: The importance of color.

Page Two

Color was also important. The carrier wanted to set the documents apart from other documents received at the POS, such as receipts or rebates, and dressing the documents with a Cingular orange banner was just the ticket. But even more important was the role that color plays in memory retention.

"Color causes retention, as we found in focus groups, and customers were more likely to reference and retain color documents," said Hedges.

A duplexer for two-sided printing was needed as well to consolidate the information onto as few pages as possible.

"This narrowed the market of printers we could select from," said Hedges. Duplexing is not available in many color laser printers priced for smaller businesses, or often it is available as an optional feature for additional cost, such as in the Phaser 6250.

Pricing, of course, was also key for Cingular. The Phaser 6250 is priced at $1,799, but ProSys negotiated a lower price for Cingulars rollout.

"This is where we really got some help from ProSys. They negotiated the price with Xerox and other vendors, and once the contract was given to Xerox, they worked closely with ProSys," Hedges said.

The new color documents cost Cingular about 12 cents per page, not including the price of the printers.

Click here to read about Xeroxs new multifunction printers.

The company started running trials with the new printers and documents about a year ago and concluded them in February. From April to July, the carrier rolled out printers to 1,000 of its retail stores. Another 2,000 have been implemented by its agents, "which are stores that look, smell and act like Cingular retail stores," said Hedges.

Unfortunately, Cingular hasnt been able to outfit its kiosks with color printers, as they dont have T-1 lines or space for larger color printers.

After Cingulars expected merger with AT&T Wireless, the company will deploy roughly another 1,000 machines to retail stores as well as whatever Cingulars agents deploy.

To help manage this massive rollout, Cingular contracted out a project manager from ProSys, who worked on-site at Cingular for nine months.

"She tracked the progress from the order coming in, to shipping, to receiving products, to installing, to testing," said Hedges. "If we had to roll it out by ourselves to all of our retail stores, wed probably have to hire one person full time as well as contract out another one part time."

ProSys provided Cingular with a Web-based system so it could monitor deployment, and the project manager also provided frequent e-mail updates with spreadsheets breaking down deployments.

"This gave us the ability to see where there were issues, and we could then call the local people," said Hedges.

One obstacle Cingular had to tackle was finding space for the color machines in its smaller retail stores. ProSys, in response, ordered carts to hold the printers. "In 70 to 80 percent of stores, we had to have a company make a cart to hold the printer," said Hedges.

"As much as Ive been involved in IT projects, this has been the most successful project Ive been involved with—from hitting the timelines to executing," said Hedges.

Check out eWEEK.coms Retail Center at http://retail.eweek.com for the latest news, views and analysis of technologys impact on retail.

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