iPad for CRM finds a start in mobile field service

One furniture maker is rolling out the iPad with its delivery team, to improve the customer experience, go paperless and create efficiencies.

The hype that surrounded the launch of the iPad, Apple's wildly popular tablet computer, may have left some wondering when and where it would find a business application. But one furniture maker has already found it.

Arhaus Furniture, a Cleveland, Ohio-based furniture maker with 34 stores across the Midwest and eastern United States, is equipping all its delivery drivers with an iPad not only to go paperless but to improve up-sell and cross-sell.

According to John Roddy, senior vice president of logistics for Arhaus, the company had been looking for more than a year for a handheld device that would allow the company to eliminate paperwork for its drivers. However, the small form factor of smartphones made them impractical.

"We have delivery guys who are big, burly guys, and they have problems double keying," Roddy said. "But then, the new IT director and I sat down and he threw out the idea of the iPad and I said, 'Come on -- it's just an oversized phone.'"

However, after taking an iPad with him on a June vacation, Roddy was quickly sold.

The iPod-iPad comparison is a frequent one, and when it comes to development, that comparison is both apt and positive, according to Sheryl Kingstone, director of the Enterprise Research Group with Boston-based Yankee Group. "The iPad is basically a big iPhone," she said. "It's a fantastic device. The people that are questioning, I don't get it. It really is a great device. It's fantastic for the non-tech users."

The difficulty, as with the iPhone, is Apple's requirements for third-party applications on its AppStore.

Arhaus is a longtime customer of TOA Technologies, which is developing an iPad application that will allow Arhaus to do signature capture.

Many of the CRM suite vendors have quickly adapted their software to work on the iPad. Microsoft CRM has an iPad application. Oracle Siebel CRM also has an iPad version, as do SugarCRM and NetSuite.

The Arhaus application has been built not as a CRM application but for signature capture. Arhaus also plans to load the device with the company's furniture catalogue and a video thank-you message from the president.

This fall, once the technology is in place and the fleet is equipped, drivers will take the iPads with them to deliveries. As they arrive, they will hand the iPad to the customer for a signature and the video message, Roddy said. As the delivery is made, customers can look through the catalogue for furniture accessories.

"We look at our drivers as a secondary sales force," Roddy said. "Customers might order a sofa but no tables with it. This really becomes more a point-of-sale tool for our drivers."

In the event of an order mistake or damage to the piece, the customer can get on the phone with customer service and work through the issue while the driver is still there.

"For lack of a better term, I call it one-stop shopping," Roddy said.

Arhaus already uses TOA for an internal workforce management system called ETA, to schedule and monitor deliveries. Arhaus is unusual among furniture makers in that it has its own delivery fleet, rather than using outside contractors. In the past, drivers accessed the ETA system from smartphones, but the iPad will now be able to handle that. Arhaus is also planning to use the iPad's mapping applications and GPS to track where trucks are.

The program requires some training for drivers. They do not receive commissions for up-sell and cross-sell. In fact, the process still encourages customers to deal directly with a sales associate.

"Because it is a new concept and we're in the building phase for some drivers, they're a little hesitant. It's a new technology. Anything new usually scares people," Roddy said. "Once they sit down and see it, go through the training, they'll understand this tool helps them."

If nothing else, the iPad keeps customers occupied and out of the way while the delivery team brings in the furniture.

While Roddy is counting on improved customer service, up-sell opportunities and the "cool factor" of handing an iPad to Arhaus's upscale customers when a driver walks in the door, he's also counting on some straightforward ROI.

Simply by eliminating the paper delivery tickets he would have ordered this year, Roddy will pay for the iPads and have another $10,000 left over for development.

He's also hoping for some savings in fuel, customer service staffing and decreases in mileage for the vehicles.

With 23 to 25 trucks on the road each day, Roddy is ordering 40 iPads and plans to have the system in place by November.

His experience with the device and his optimism about adoption on the part of his drivers is well founded, according to Kingstone.

"The benefits that I've seen with some of these field service and non-technical users who haven't wanted to pick up a small iPhone is they're picking up the iPad and using it very easily thanks to the simplicity of these things," she said. "My only concern in the field is you've gotta be careful with these things. They're not inexpensive."

In addition, with the location data and real-time information delivery, she sees a bright future for the iPad in the enterprise, particularly now that Apple seems committed to business use for the device.

"They're starting to open up a little bit more,” Kingstone said. “And the more businesses show the benefits of the UI and blending rich media with data, it will get there.”

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