Mike Louis has been active for over five years as sales office manager at Zehnder. Within the past five years Zehnder’s revenue has drastically increased whilst customer expectations constantly have been surpassed. Remarkably, this has been accomplished without any expansion of the workforce. Want to know how Mike managed to pull this together? Read more about this and discover his surprising approach!
Zehnder is represented in over twenty countries worldwide and is a market leader in the field of energy efficiency and climate systems that contribute to a healthy and responsible living- and working environments. Since 2016 Mike has managed the Sales office within the Netherlands.
Mike, you are now for over five years responsible for the sales office, can you describe the situation when you started?
When I started working at Zehnder things were quite different. The transition from a locally managed ERP system towards a globally managed ERP system had just started. A lot of processes had a completely different design within this new system. Logically, this had quite some impact on the company. Moreover, since we concurrently were in a growth spurt the workload on our department increased dramatically.
I was assigned to keep the department successful without making any additions to the workforce. Furthermore there was little to no room to make any modifications on the new ERP system. That was quite a challenge.
Our mission is to exceed the expectations of our customers. In order to accomplish this we ensure that we add value within each step of our process, additionally we always try to surprise our customers. As Einstein said once: ‘Try not to become a person of success, try to become a person with value.
That sounds like an impossible task. What made you enthusiastically embark on this journey?
The word “impossible” triggered me to take this assignment. I don’t believe that there is anything that is impossible, it just has not been done until now. This challenge gave me the drive to search for ways to make it possible. Most of the time you will see that “it” is possible, however you need to be innovative and prepare yourself for some serious resistance.
That's an admirable vision! It shows some guts. Can you point out the difficulties that you encountered?
When I signalize capacity problems, I don’t automatically grasp for more people. Instead, I think of increasing process efficiency and automation. Often these automations can be realized within the scope of the systems running locally, however these kinds of automations can be regarded as large projects and are generally very time-consuming.
A lot of applications within the newly realized ERP system were globally highly valuable for Zehnder, however because of some slight differences that are present in the processes for the Netherlands we were not able to utilize it to its maximum extent. Since the company would not update the entire system for the specific needs of just one country, I knew that it needed a very robust business case. This was even more the case since the administrative burden had increased with two FTEs since the introduction of the new ERP system.
What was it that you did to counteract this?
The processes that were in place were basically fine, however we need to process more volume in less time. Firstly, I wanted to reduce the amount of data that needed to be entered into the systems. Further, I know from experience that queue times are generally more time-consuming than the actual processing time. That was the reason to also aim at reducing the queue times.
The discovery of software robots with which a couple of processes could be automated in just a few weeks excited me. Practically all repeating and mundane tasks can be outsourced to such a robot. This frees up the employees who can focus on the more challenging tasks.
Because of the relatively low development costs and the expected positive output on the other hand, the business case became pretty convincing. This made that a ‘go’ decision was quickly made. Since working with software robots is a fairly unknown domain, resistance came inevitably. However, this quickly disappeared after seeing the results of the first project.
That's great! Was this a successful solution to the problem in the end?
It definitely was. Revenue has increased, queuing times are reduced, and in the end there was no need to enlarge the workforce.
Previously, 20% of the service requests were scheduled. This was because the team safeguarded capacity to avoid complex manual rescheduling. They blocked available capacity on purpose to mitigate the need to reschedule. Currently, the robot schedules all of the requests and takes care of the rescheduling actions.
What is the impact on employees? Do they have any work to do?
By seeing the robot in action, it was indeed remarked that “if it continues like this I will probably have no work left to do soon”. However, this will rarely become a result of process optimization and automation. Since our department's core business is advising and helping customers.
However, previously we would devote most of our time to entering data manually. No, the focus has altered towards where it should be; getting in touch with customers.
Additionally, we now have enough time to deal with exceptions and to react proactively. With this, we are able to exceed customer expectations and are able to create additional value within multiple areas.
Do you also not want to hire additional employees and make work more meaningful? Stop with working hard, start to automate! We like to think along with you about the possibilities. Reach out for Sacha van Essen (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.