Trash Talkin': Waste Management Company Turns High Tech into High-Touch Service for Customers

Two years ago the Internet was the last thing on Jack Wolfin’s mind. "We were so focused on building our business that the Internet seemed more like a distraction than a key ingredient," said the business manager at Philip Services (PSC) Pacific Northwest By-Products Group. Today, strategic use of technology is at the core of a cultural shift going on at PSC's By-Products Group, a North American leader in hazardous and non-hazardous waste management solutions. That cultural shift is focused around becoming a world-class service organization and the Internet is helping them deliver that high-tech/high-touch philosophy to customers.

"The Web is only one piece of our strategy to become a service organization," said Jack Wolfin. "Waste management has become a commodity. So applying technology to enhance our relationship with the customer at a reasonable cost is a strategic move."

The Solution

For Philip Services, enhancing the relationship with customers meant breaking down the barriers for customers to connect with them -- no matter where they were and what time they wanted to do it. Philip Services started by working with an Extranet Service Provider, Aventail Corporation, to build a business partner network called where customers can reach PSC from their desktop at anytime.

Today, customers can quickly place orders online through, establish waste designation profiles, schedule transportation and access critical records related to type, volume and cost of waste shipped to Philip. This new online process compliments an existing phone-based customer interaction model. These new services are expected to result in higher customer satisfaction, increased loyalty and repeat business, and reduced costs from call center activity, as well as create new business opportunities.

Philip Services is an integrated metals recovery and industrial services company with operations throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Philip provides diversified metals services, together with by-products management and industrial outsourcing services, to all major industry sectors.

Industry Challenges

After years of consolidation, plant closures and razor thin profit margins, only a handful of major vendors exist today in the waste management industry. Of those vendors, there is little to differentiate between them in what has become a commodity market.

The process for providing service to an industrial waste management customer is one-dimensional, yet requires extensive paperwork and documentation to satisfy regulatory requirements. Customers begin by establishing waste designation profiles; this includes completion of a complex form outlining the chemical and physical properties of the waste. This form once complete would be faxed to a customer service representative for approval. Reviewing existing profiles, adding new, or deleting old ones all had to be done over the phone. Once approved, a pick-up order is placed over the phone. In the case of the Pacific Northwest By-Products Group, that call or any others had to take place between 8-5 Pacific Standard Time. PSC would then process the order and schedule a pick up. All of these transactions occur over the phone, fax or e-mail. Once the waste was received an invoice was sent out to the customer.

The current process leaves few opportunities for interaction with the customer. This is why PSC is trying to leverage each one of those opportunities and create new avenues for customers to work with PSC on their own terms. The expected result is fewer phone calls and inefficient paper transactions, and more targeted communication online.

"We want to create a common experience for customers," said Wolfin. "The people who touch the customer -- the truck drivers, the field staff and the customer service representatives -- have already built strong relationships with the customers. We want to project that same positive experience on the web and make it easier to do business with us."

Services: Build vs. Buy

As with many corporations, PSC did not have the resources to build a business partner network on their own. PSC considered several alternatives, but nothing seemed to provide the fast delivery and wide breadth of capabilities they needed. At the same time, they were under tremendous pressure to extend these services out to customers online quickly before their competition did. PSC decided to outsource the planning, activating and management of the extranet. They turned to Aventail, which provides a managed extranet service called Aventail.Net that builds a proof-of-concept extranet in 30 days, and a fully functioning business partner network in 10 weeks -- a process that takes most companies 10 months to a year.

Aventail.Net integrates the technology from several leading vendors and takes full accountability for the entire solution. Based upon the Aventail ExtraNet Center software platform, Aventail.Net also integrates IBM’s SecureWay LDAP Directory Server, VeriSign’s OnSite managed digital certificate service, RSA’s SecurID token two-factor authentication service and load balancing with F5 Networks’ Big-IP. The program is designed to take everything off the customer’s plate -- from management of the people through help desk support, to management of the technology infrastructure.

"We shopped around quite a bit, but all the solutions out there required us to combine several different technologies into something that would work for us," said Wolfin. "We didn’t have the time or the resources to become solutions integrators. So we went with a managed service from an Extranet Service Provider."

Security and Speed to Market

Given the sensitivity of customers waste management records, one of PSC’s top concerns was tight security. Aventail.Net offered a comprehensive approach to user ID and authentication for PSC, leveraging VeriSign’s Onsite managed digital certificate service for user authentication, which provides added user access and control protection.

Another critical decision to go with a managed service was because of the speed to market it provided, rolling out a fully functioning extranet in 10 weeks. "There was simply no way for us to meet that delivery schedule on our own," said Wolfin. "And we knew that we had limited time to jump out ahead of the competition -- we believe quality service delivery, enhanced communication and the application of leading edge web technology will allow us to differentiate our business in a very competitive commodity market."

The Technology Behind the Solution

Moving from a manual order-entry system, PSC built a web application called that allows the customer to establish waste profiles, enter orders, schedule transportation, track orders, check records, and access customer service. PSC merely has to invite a customer to use the service by providing a link to the website and authentication credentials to access their onsite database application once they reach the site. In other words, for customers to do business with PSC all they need is Internet access and an invitation.

When customers utilize the PSC database application they are actually accessing resources within PSC's internal network. Upon hitting the Web site, customers are routed through Aventail’s solution, which proxies traffic to the Web server and allows the user to only access specified resources based on their identity. For security, Aventail.Net masks the internal Web server's directory structure and encrypts the data traveling over the Internet.

Going Live

PSC launched its site in April to all of its Northwest customers after extensive testing, and so far has been quickly moving the order fulfillment process to the web at a significant cost reduction. Some customers have been asking for Web-based access for some time, and have moved over immediately. Others are experimenting with the new service now, and are expected to migrate over in the coming months.

Looking forward, Wolfin says that his goal is to enable any one of his customers or PSC employees to have access to whatever data they need, wherever they are, whenever they need it, and that means wireless functionality. "I want to put information in employee and customer hands instantly from anywhere," said Wolfin. "That may seem a ways out, but we’ve created a direct pipeline to our customers, which opens up a whole world of possibilities. It’s just the first step for us to really take the lead on the service front."

Xerox Scanning and Capture Services Group Wins Big with Web-Based Customer Service

By Thomas Kuegler

When Xerox’ Scanning and Capture Services group decided to start selling its scanning products through the channel, they decided, like many other companies have, to hire a third-party support services provider. Such providers can reduce the cost of support delivery and make it easier to accommodate the peaks and valleys that characterize support workloads over time.

But how do you quickly and effectively share support knowledge with a third-party provider? And how do you manage trouble-ticketing and escalation across two separate companies?

For Ken Corpus, the group’s technical support manager, the answer was to implement RightNow Web from RightNow Technologies Inc. -- which also hosted the Scanning group's innovative "Web customer service" site. "The biggest challenge for us was how we were going to move information across the firewall," he explains. "Going to an externally hosted, Web-based solution was clearly the best approach."

RightNow Web delivered two key benefits. First, it eliminated the entire firewall issue, since the application resided on an outside server. "Given the firewall and other infrastructure issues of a large company like Xerox, putting up a server on our internal network and then giving our contractor access to it would have created a bunch of configuration issues," Corpus says.

Secondly, since the client for the application is a browser, both the tier one support contractor and Corpus’ internal tier two and three teams can easily share trouble-ticket administrative functions. "In fact, I can even get to the system when I’m at home or off-site," notes Corpus. "That’s a tremendous advantage when you’re trying to do a great job with the leanest possible staffing."

Corpus adds that client/server architectures just can’t deliver these same benefits. "We tried client/server software that had some Web functionality as a separate module, and it just couldn’t do the job," he notes. "Ultimately, if your software isn’t architected from the ground up as a Web-based solution, you’re not going to get the full benefits of universal browser access from anywhere on the Internet."

According to Corpus, the hosted approach also significantly accelerated his group’s implementation of their new Web support toolkit. He first discovered the RightNow software while seeking support for a personal site he had set up at WebJump, another RightNow user and one of the Internet’s largest hosting services. "I went to the RightNow site and saw that they offered a free demo," recalls Corpus. "I pointed them to our existing static FAQs (frequently asked questions), and within 48 hours they had a functional site running that had the Xerox look-and-feel." Impressed by both the functionality of the site and the speed with which it had been created, Corpus pitched his own management on the idea. Within a month, the entire system was up and running. "That’s a very, very fast implementation for an organization of this size," Corpus boasts.

Web Customer Service Benefits

Of course, in addition to meeting the Scanning and Capture Services group's specific requirements for inter-organizational support operations, RightNow also delivered the more fundamental benefits of Web-based customer service -- reduced call loads and more effective use of the support team’s ever-increasing knowledge base. "The great thing about being able to dynamically generate FAQs is that you only have to answer a question once," says Corpus. "After that, it’s there on your Web site for every other customer or support staffer who has the same question."

Corpus says the volume of calls that have to be escalated has gone down around 50 percent, and that the group’s online support resources are invaluable for servicing customers around the world on a 24 by seven basis. He also says that the RightNow system has been a boon for his internal salesforce, which has seen a 25 percent reduction in calls now that customers can find out so much for themselves on the site. "People today just want to surf the Web for the information they’re looking for," Corpus declares. "So a good online information resource is a must."

In addition to improving his group’s effectiveness, RightNow has also been a personal accomplishment for Corpus, who won the prestigious Xerox Achievement Award in recognition of the resulting improvements. "Our investment in online service has saved us an incredible amount of time," says Barbara Waal, Vice President and General Manager, Xerox Scanning and Capture Services. "Even more importantly, our customers really appreciate our improved responsiveness."

According to RightNow President Greg Gianforte, that responsiveness has become a critical consideration for companies competing in the increasingly crowded online marketspace. "Nobody has any doubt at this point that the Web is where customer service is heading," Gianforte says. "The only question on most managers’ minds is how to do it quickly and cost-effectively. That’s the question we believe we can answer better than anyone else."


About the author:

Thomas Kuegler Jr. is product manager at RightNow Technologies (Bozeman, MT). He can be reached at