Using Technology to Empower the Customer and the Employee – Interview with Pepijn Richter

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"We are moving away from automation to see how we can empower people, and look into the future" - Pepijn Richter, Director, ERP Product Marketing, Microsoft Corp.

Should technology innovations focus simply on automating processes? What if they also focused on empowering your customers, and your employees?

I was pleased to meet and interview Pepijn Richter, Director, ERP Product Marketing at Microsoft,   during Microsoft’s Convergence 2015 event, and he had a lot to say, not only about the technology advances of Microsoft’s ERP solutions, but also about the trend toward customer and employee empowerment.

“It is the people that propel organizations forward and drive innovation,” commented Pepijn. “In the past, ERP was centered on transactional efficiency. If you look at how Microsoft products are coming together, we are finally helping the people doing day to day tasks to work smarter.  We are moving away from automation to see how we can empower people, and look into the future.”

JJ Food Services

A good example of this approach is JJ Food Services, a UK based distributor of food products that services 60,000 customers, mainly small restaurant owners. They replaced their legacy systems with Microsoft Dynamics AX. Microsoft Dynamics AX now powers the entire operation—from HR, procurement, and sales to inventory/warehouse management and order processing.

Using Technology to Empower the Customer

Pepijn discussed how JJ Food Services uses technology to empower their customers.  “A few years ago, their business changed from a call center to a complete online ordering model for customers.  If you have a call center you have personal connection with the restaurant owner. You have the ability to recommend new products on the phone, to cross sell and upsell.  Moving to an online model, you lose those opportunities because it is only digital engagement.

So they asked: how can we help the restaurant owner and simplify the order process? First, can we prepopulate the order form to make the order processing faster? Second, can we advise them on the next logical purchase, digitally? That is where the Microsoft system comes together.

Using Microsoft Azure Machine Learning (ML) we incorporated a “next logical purchase” algorithm. This is based historical data, which comes traditionally in ERP systems, combined with a customer’s click stream behavior in order to make predictions. The order is prepopulated based on previous orders but also suggestions are made based on what similar customers are ordering.”

JJ Food services has made the online shopping process faster and easier for the customer, and kept them engaged with the company.

Using Technology to Empower the Employee

Technology is also used to empower the JJ Food Services employees. “Sensors were installed that manage the temperature inside their delivery trucks.  Using IoT, the quality of shipments is being monitored and serves as quality control. But the delivery person is so much more enabled; not only do they not have to monitor temperatures manually, but also provide the goods in the right condition to their customer. They can feel confident the job was done right.  JJ Food Service drivers also have mobile apps that allow them to communicate back with headquarters and update their delivery schedules. In this way technology not only delights the customers, it empowers the employees,” said Pepijn.

Delta Airlines

Another good example of this empowerment is Delta Airlines which uses Microsoft Dynamics AX data to power smartphones used as mobile POS devices. These devices have dramatically reduced the amount of time flight attendants have to stand in the aisle to process in flight payments, thus providing a better experience for customers.  But the technology has been extended so that Delta employees can also use the devices to more efficiently bid on flight schedules.  Once again, technology that was intended to help the customer, has also improved the life of employees.

Pepijn concluded: “Research shows that from a business application perspective we always take the customer angle - how to deliver that consistent customer experience wherever you are. But it is so interesting to note that employee satisfaction also rises when you provide those services.

Companies can use technology to improve infrastructure and to run things more efficiently.  But I think we are moving in the direction where organizations can use technology to change business process models.”

Any business person knows that keeping customers happy is the way to win business, but keeping employees happy and productive is the real key to a solid organization. Microsoft recognizes that and is pursuing its technology while focusing also on the human factor.

By ERP Software Blog Editors,

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