ZIFFPAGE TITLENinety

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 10-05-2005 Print Email
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Ninety-Day Wonder

The idea was to duplicate, on a smaller scale, the operation Enesco had run for years, using packaged software whenever possible, and making sure to keep a tight focus on supporting the emotional bond between company and customer. Most other companies in PMI's situation might have outsourced customer service. But Precious Moments is a company built on sentiment and sad-eyed waifs—forces powerful enough to reshape a make-or-break technology project.

So a quick-and-dirty, hands-off call-center operation in Bangalore was out of the question. Instead, the company took the time to hire a veteran call-center executive and staff a new customer-care department that now has 20 full-time workers.

Why bother? "People have an underlying spiritual connection with our products," says Troccoli. "Even more than with a company like Disney, the relationship is significant to the brand." Precious Moments customers want to talk to Precious Moments people. Only about a third of the 300 daily customer calls are about orders. The rest are about Precious Moments figurines—when is a new piece coming out, whether an old one is still available. "It's a personal thing," says Berent. "Sometimes the service representatives are almost doing therapy, and that requires a sensitivity level you can't get from an outsourcer."

Huwel had been running Precious Moments for the Butcher family on behalf of an investment firm called Trivest Partners LP, which had tried to buy Precious Moments in 2003, but instead ended up agreeing to run the licensing and theme-park businesses. Now Huwel had to staff PMI in a hurry. He spent most of his time at company headquarters in Elgin, interviewing and hiring people as quickly as he could.

But much of the work was also taking place at the Missouri theme park, where Huwel was using the company's existing assets whenever possible. Instead of starting from scratch, he built the call center by leveraging a smaller, existing operation used to support a Precious Moments doll business run from the park, and he raided the park gift store for knowledgeable workers who could better relate to the collectors who would call the new service center. By July 1, Huwel had 50 employees, including financial and IT staff, and a key product manager and sales head poached from Enesco.

Because Huwel was more interested in shopping for talent to staff the new company than for software to run it, he went with relatively uncomplicated packaged products as often as he could.

"We started with a bit of a blank piece of paper, and a lot of processes in place at Enesco that were no longer appropriate in the context of our existing business," he says. "They are a much larger organization, with formalized ways of doing things that we stripped down on the fly." Says Berent, "It helped to have a greenfield and not to worry about user bias."

There was no real thought of replicating the complex PeopleSoft applications that ran Enesco's back office. So when an existing system used to support the Precious Moments doll business turned out to be creaky and outdated, the company went with software from Microsoft Great Plains and an improvised warehouse management application Troccoli himself cranked out in just four days. "We chose programs we knew service providers, including resellers and consultants in the area, could support," says Huwel.

But it didn't make sense to start completely anew. Berent's team began working to replicate the proprietary software used by Enesco to manage the Precious Moments collector's club. "It's a 80,000-record database of buying patterns and habits going back years, down to the SKU numbers, and it's the best test environment for new products the company has," Berent says.

"We had to clone that and ship it to the theme-park campus in Carthage, where the warehouse and related operations were being constructed, and we had to upgrade things like user interfaces that had not been touched in years."

Things got more complicated as Enesco laid off some of the personnel who had supported Precious Moments, pushing more responsibility onto the new organization sooner than it had expected. "We started out talking about just doing the distribution angle by July 1—the physical plant, and the pick, pack and ship—and we ended up taking on a lot more than that," Troccoli says. "We had a responsible business conversation about licensing issues in April that, by May, had changed to us taking on these big operational pieces like order management and customer service."

Originally, Enesco had planned to phase out support for some more complex functions over the second half of 2005.

Electronic data interchange connectivity to major customers, including large chains such as Walgreen Co. and specialty shops such as Hallmark, had been slated for October. But Enesco dumped large-order processing into Troccoli's lap much sooner than expected, and he had to be operational by mid-August. From the first of July until then, Precious Moments found itself awash in paper purchase orders from its biggest customers.



 

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