Crown Worldwide Relocates to the Web

A global moving and storage company’s Web solution improves customer service and competitive position

If you’re moving your family to another town, or your business around the world, Crown Worldwide Moving and Storage can take care of it for you. The San Leandro, Calif., company manages every step, from packing and loading your possessions, to taking them through customs, putting them on a container ship and supervising their arrival, unloading and final delivery.

Crown’s principle customer base consists of large commercial organizations with which it contracts to manage relocation services on a global basis. A single customer may account for numerous individuals. Crown currently has over 200 customers, but must manage over 3,000 active orders.

Crown must be in a position to provide customers with status updates on active orders in real time, around the clock, around the world
As with other global service providers, Crown must be in a position to provide customers with status updates on active orders in real time, around the clock. Relying on communication with customers by phone, fax or e-mail, as Crown once did, was not only time consuming but invited customer service failures.

In the spring of 1999, Crown’s sales force found they were losing bids to competitors who could offer customers Web access to order status. According to Bruce Baxter, president of Independents Inc., the IT service provider to which Crown outsourced its IT support needs in 1992, Crown’s marketing executives wanted to know what they had to do in order to be able to answer “Yes!” to those questions on customers’ RFPs.

“Crown’s customers’ human resources managers, who are responsible for relocating a department, want a painless way to find out the status of their employees’ household goods and how soon they will arrive,” Baxter says. “They want to have that information accessible on a seven-by-24 basis without coming in through the telephone operator—with the chance that their customer service rep might be out for the day.”

Crown began a development project to create a Web-based resource to satisfy the growing need for interactive communication and information. Baxter met with Crown’s marketing team and with customers to discover what information was most in demand, but first he had to acquire an education himself.

Crown’s core applications run on an AS/400 Model 500, with OS/400 V4R4. “I didn’t have any experience in creating AS/400 Web sites,” Baxter explains, “but I did have some experience implementing accounting applications written in LANSA (LANSA Inc., Oak Brook, Ill.)

“I knew LANSA had a module called LANSA for the Web for the development of Web pages that would allow me to take advantage of my own knowledge base,” Baxter continues. “We decided to investigate that. In the meantime I went to the LANSA technical conference and took as many Web related topics as I could. I came back a lot smarter, and we developed a prototype Web application.”

The development project began in May 1999, and the Web application went live the following August—after beta testing and several rounds of modifications. During the project, Crown acquired an additional AS/400 Model P170, also with V4R4, which now hosts the Web application and native Domino.

Data is input to the system first by customer service representatives who are responsible for specific customers’ accounts, and second by EDI. Crown exchanges EDI transactions with its ground carriers and container ship companies, automatically retrieving EDI status records from them and updating its database three times a day.

“Our Web page retrieval is dynamic, so as soon as an EDI transaction hits our database it’s available to the Web page,” he says.

Now information is available from Crown’s Web site in two ways, Baxter said. An individual who knows a specific Crown order number can look up an individual order. Or, a human resources administrator at a customer company with a user ID and a personal identification number (PIN) can drill down from a list of all active orders Crown has underway.

“We created a little green-screen maintenance program to maintain user IDs and PINs,” Baxter says. “We made it simple enough so that sales representative can administer client access. For example, if a person forgets his or her PIN they can just call the sales rep to get it reset.”

According to Baxter, the system is still evolving. Recently, Crown added a page that enables a potential customer to request a price estimate. As the customer enters their information at the Web site, the system automatically e-mails a customer service representative.

“We have a quote system now with tariff tables that is constantly maintained,” Baxter says. “We can generate a quote over the phone in a minute or two. There’s no reason why we couldn’t do the same thing over the Web, but for the time being we just capture the information and a service rep calls them back. We’re going to wait and see if it makes sense later on to develop a Web-based quote system.”

Also planned is Web-accessible business intelligence. “A data warehouse is definitely on the plate,” explains Baxter. “We have a rudimentary data warehouse now just with green-screens, but Crown would like some kind of Web presentation.”

In retrospect, Baxter says the only thing he would have done differently during the development project is to have brought in more external specialists and not attempted to do as much on his own.

“I could have focused on one or two areas, not the whole thing,” he says. “If you’re setting up an AS/400 as a Web box, I’d recommend some outside talent.”

Although Baxter can’t easily quantify the benefits of the system, he knows that at the very least Crown’s sales representatives are no longer at a disadvantage when responding to customers’ RFPs. He also knows, he said, that larger customers such as the high-tech firms in the surrounding Silicon Valley area are spending much less time on the phone to Crown.

“We’re definitely on a level playing field with the larger moving and storage companies now,” he concludes. “And, we’ve taken a huge step beyond the ones that don’t yet have a Web presence.”

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