Motorcycle firm revs up customer service with SMS

While “speed” was a hallmark of Hero Honda’s scooters and motorbikes — until recently the same couldn’t be said of the Indian firm’s customer service.

Speed Breaker Ahead

Many of the company’s challenges in this area had to do with a longwinded, complex process for handling and resolving customer complaints.

For instance, if someone walked into a Hero Honda office to complain about a defective bike part – the time to resolve that complaint was unacceptably long, and the process complex and inefficient.

First, the complaint was be entered into an SAP system; office personnel would call the relevant distributor or service engineer and notify them about the defect. It didn’t end there.

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The distributor or engineer would then have to check their stock, and get back to the office. The office would check for replacement stock, and then phone the distributor or customer. Finally, the needed part was sent to the client.

These multiple interactions took several days.

Hero Honda sought to speed up and simply this process. “We wanted information to be available to decision makers when they needed it. As everyone carries a phone these days, you can push that information with a critical alert, to the right person,” said Vijay Sethi, CIO of Hero Honda.

He said the idea was to equip people with information even when they were not in office or unable to access the Internet.

The other issue was that marketing personnel who visited other offices usually found it very tough to obtain real-time sales and distributor data.

Something had to be done. And fast.

Creating a Short Cut

The solution Sethi and his team hit upon was an SMS-SAP rollout that ensured requested information was available in real-time and the speed breakers eliminated.

The SMS-based solution allows a Hero Honda staffer to share information with the company’s servers irrespective of his location.

This information is flashed to key personnel’s mobile phones nationwide, removing the need of their logging onto the Web site.

This ensured that communication needs were resolved quickly. “Now, the moment the complaint is entered in SAP from anywhere in India, an SMS gets sent directly to the dealer,” Sethi notes.

He said all intermediaries have been eliminated.

“We’ve done away with the time spent waiting for access or calling someone who can provide the customer with a solution.”

This feat was accomplished through what the folk at Hero Honda call SMS Push-Pull service.

It’s a system that uses three core elements – an SAP Handler, an SMS Handler and a DB Handler.

“Basically all the transactions happen on SAP R3, whether they are related to production, sales or anything else,” Sethi said.

Briefly here’s how it works: a remote function service pulls the data from SAP, pushes that on to the SMS server and from there pushes it to the person on their mobile phone. “We’re doing both the push and the pull part,” said Sethi.

Caution: Men at Work

He said implementing a project of this size was no easy task, as Hero Honda’s sales force and dealer network is spread across almost every Indian city.

The process of integrating with SAP and fetching on-line data isn’t a standard function.

Despite challenges though, the implementation was smooth. The only issue was, what kind of information was to be shared, and at what frequency.

Different people want different information every 10 or 20 minutes. So one has to maintain a delicate balance and for that, for the last two or three months we had to work on striking a balance – this kind of response, to this kind of people, at this frequency.”

One for the Road

The project was implemented in two phases: SMS push on December 2006 and SMS pull on March 2007, with a total investment ofRs 7 lakh (around $15,500).

Infrastructure costs, (CAPEX) for this type of system weren’t huge, Sethi said.

SMS charges are based on the usage, making the service very cost effective. “Besides, the ROI is great as the marketing team is using this very effectively.”

Crossing Milestones

According to Sethi, the biggest benefit — from a marketing and sales perspective — is that all the field staff has real time information.

“Now they don’t have to return to ask the back office or any other department about the status of dispatch, we have everything available.”

It has helped us a lot in increasing the productivity and field staff are satisfied. “The most important information is at their fingertips and they don’t have to talk to anyone to get it.”

The new system, Sethi said, helps dealers cull out any information they need from the database.

“As part of our job, we spend a lot more time at Gemba (the activity site) than at our desk. This helps us to take decisions faster as we get the information real time. It is changingthe way we work,” says head HR and strategic planning Anadi S. Pande.

The service also notifies all employees when there’s a discrepancy between planned and actual production.

A business alert is generated immediately, and sent to concerned employees, informing them of the change in figures so everyone stays updated.

The planned, produced, rejected status for production as well as the actual production data is sent as SMS at the end of the shift to all the concerned people, says Vikram S. Kasbekar, head-operations and supply chain.

Kasbekar says he gets both real-time alerts and end of day operations status notifications within seconds. “I do not have to wait for someone to send me information. This system has improved our productivity a lot.”

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