Customer Service 21st Century-style

What does the Great Depression have to do with customer service? One manufacturing company puts a modern twist on the principles on which it was founded.

[From iSource Business, August/September 2002] During the Great Depression of the 1930's, Frank W. "Pat" Murphy resided in Illinois in a little town called Mt. Carmel along the banks of the Wabash River. He was making his living as a sales manager for an equipment distributor, and many of his customers came to him with one main complaint about their equipment: burned up engines. So Murphy put himself fully behind the task of solving what was troubling his clients. He found that the engine operators were bringing in engines equipped with poor quality, non-indicating safety switches that were difficult to test or were inoperative. So, in order to make life a little easier for them, he put his knowledge of engines to work and came up with the idea of a
"safety switch."

This safety switch combined an indicating gauge with a switch that stopped an engine when it had low oil pressure or high coolant temperatures. After field testing his new invention on several unattended oil field engines, Murphy introduced it to his clients.

The operators quickly caught on to the technology, since it featured an operating gauge they could actually see, as well as the ability to adjust the trip point to their needs and to test the switch for operation. Because his safety switch was so well accepted, Murphy quit his job with the equipment distributor and devoted his full attention to producing the instruments in the kitchen of his home - and the company FWMurphy was born.

Today, FWMurphy is a $50 million enterprise that employs over 400 employees with headquarters in Tulsa, Okla., and manufacturing sites elsewhere in the United States, Mexico and the United Kingdom. It makes products for the industrial engine market, with customers such as Ford, John Deere and Caterpillar; and the gas compressor industry, with customers like Hanover and Universal Compressor.

Despite its success, the company is still based on the same principles that birthed it 63 years ago: "We are driven by customer satisfaction and service. Our responsibility is to understand our external and internal customers' needs, provide timely solutions and fulfill commitments," according to the company's core values. That's why, when faced with the opportunity to improve relationships with its customer base, FWMurphy embraced the idea of customer relationship management (CRM) and its technology without hesitation.

Driven to Serve

FWMurphy's management had realized for some time that the way in which the company handled its customer information was quickly becoming outdated. Mitch Myers, FWMurphy's vice president of operations, says, "One of the things FWMurphy has prided itself on in the past has been customer intimacy - it's been one of our core competencies." And customer intimacy is extremely difficult to maintain in a growing organization when, as Myers explains, all the information about the company's customers resides either in the heads of its sales force or written on pieces of paper sitting on employees' desks.

Another reason driving FWMurphy's commitment to ramping up its processes: It has set a goal of being recognized as a world class manufacturing company, guided by the American Production Inventory Control Society's (APICS) education and concepts. According to Myers, the company achieved Class A status for a user of material requirements planning (MRP) last December and has since maintained that designation. But the APICS designation "takes it to the next level," Myers explains. "It talks about using lean concepts within your enterprise. It talks of partnering with your suppliers, focusing on customer service and customer service excellence. It talks about Six Sigma quality and all of the really lofty goals a manufacturing company would pursue - and we're in pursuit of that."

So, in 1999 FWMurphy set out to find the technology that would manage customer relationships and the issues associated with them, opportunities for new business, product problems, customer contact points, and events. The company had previously signed on with Denver, Colo.-based J.D. Edwards, a software and consulting services provider, in 1996 to use their OneWorld financial management and manufacturing applications. During their most recent search they turned to J.D. Edwards once again.

They found that J.D. Edwards did, in fact, have a CRM solution it was reselling from Calif.-based Siebel Systems. Even though Myers says FWMurphy already had several software possibilities it was looking at, the J.D. Edwards solution stood out in terms of convenience and interoperability. "The ingredient that made it such a sweet deal to us was the integration and the fact that it was something we weren't going to have to maintain. J.D. Edwards would maintain that integration for us long-term, and we felt that it was going to be the foundation of our e-business strategy, which would demand a tight integration to back-office ERP [enterprise resource planning]," he explains.

As fate would have it, however, J.D. Edwards and Siebel came to a mutual agreement about a year and a half later to part ways, citing changes in corporate direction. This left those companies that had agreed to partner with Siebel in a difficult position. But Myers says J.D. Edwards was quick to approach FWMurphy with a solution to the problem that, in the end, turned out to be a good move for both companies. J.D. Edwards had recently purchased a privately-held provider of Java-based CRM software called YOUcentric. The software had applications for sales force automation, campaign management, contract center management and partner relationship management, which J.D. Edwards then added to its already existing ERP, advanced planning and scheduling, and supplier relationship management solutions. The combination of the two products allows J.D. Edwards to offer a fully integrated CRM solution suite that operates on technology platforms that include UNIX, Windows NT, and IBM OS/400.

Myers says his team compared the Siebel and newly-created J.D. Edwards solutions, and they were surprised by the functionality the J.D. Edwards CRM package offered. "I wasn't sure it was going to be as feature-rich as Siebel because Siebel is a gorilla in the CRM market. But it had most of the functionality that Siebel did, and, interestingly enough, it had some functionality that Siebel did not have," Myers says. However, the real issues that pushed FWMurphy's decision in favor of J.D. Edwards were the same that had influenced it before: functionality, technology and integration. "It became increasingly clear, much as it did the first time we examined the products, that integration was going to be the key point in our future of the integration of the back office," he says. "We didn't want to manage or maintain long term the cost of integration, and it was just going to be tremendously expensive." Additionally, Myers says FWMurphy's pursuit of world-class status in the manufacturing industry lined up well with the direction J.D. Edwards had taken with its total e-commerce and CRM package, thus sealing the deal.

Survival ... and Integration

FWMurphy went live with the J.D. Edwards CRM solution this August at its facilities in Oklahoma and Texas. When asked about the type of return the company is hoping to see on its investment, Myers answered that they were confident of seeing, at the very least, a 1 percent gain in revenue that would cover the cost of the software. He adds that the organizations that are going for the Class A status must constantly be looking for ways to be competitive and keep up with the innovations in today's technology market. "We feel like this is a necessary requirement to beat our competition, for company survival. Forget revenue generation, even though we believe that will come," he says. "We feel it's just like learning how to walk. We'd better walk, or we're going to get attacked."

And so they have learned to walk, moving past toddling to a steady, self-assured gait. But, looking back, was there anything Myers would have chosen to do differently, especially in light of the time FWMurphy marked with its original CRM project? "I think, even knowing everything I know today, I still would have chosen the same direction," he says. "We gained the benefit of CRM over the last couple of years, and we've enabled our folks to get used to the mentality of using a piece of software like that. Now that we've got our final solution in place we're not talking about that big of a technology shift; not much adaptation has to take place."

Myers does have some advice, however, for companies that are facing the prospect of implementing CRM technology: Focus on configurability and ease of integration. He says those two considerations are very important for small- to medium-sized organizations that can't afford to spend hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars on information technology resources. He also recommends partnering with one solid company you know will walk you through the process, instead of using multiple solutions from multiple suppliers and trying to coordinate those processes.

FWMurphy was founded on an innovative idea that was meant to help its customers. Today, the parts FWMurphy manufactures are still helping its customers, but those customers are bigger than ever before. And CRM is the innovation that keeps those customers well cared for, showing that times really haven't changed all that much since the company first began. "The goal is to serve our customers in the best ways possible and to optimize the potential for revenue generation," Myers explains, "and a CRM solution that integrates into our ERP system is clearly the most effective way to go."