Since it started providing products like towels, employee uniforms, and laundry services to companies 125 years ago, AmeriPride Services Inc. has prided itself on a high level of customer service. That was the approach of founders and brothers George and Frank Steiner, whose descendants still own and operate the company today.
But it wasn’t until this year that AmeriPride took its ability to serve and sell to customers to a new level based on a multi-part Internet strategy. In June, the company launched new e-commerce technology that has made it easier for many of its business clients to place orders online from among the 150,000 SKUs AmeriPride offers. At the same time an online portal frees up sales reps to focus on managing more complex—and lucrative—orders that need more personal attention.
“We’ve seen an immediate big change in the number of customers submitting their own orders instead of calling our call center agents or ordering with our field sales reps,” says Andrew Steiner, vice president of marketing and customer operations, who is a fourth-generation member of AmeriPride’s controlling family. “It’s because of the ease of use of our new web store.”
The company’s new e-commerce platform is based on technology from Insite Software, which AmeriPride is using to interact in three ways online with its corporate clients:
A main e-commerce site, including improved site search and the ability to visualize uniform personalization;
Custom e-stores, which let clients access their own branded microsites with such built-in features as the ability to have more detailed control over access to certain products and order volumes by employees according to their level of purchasing authorization;
A customer portal, new this month, that lets clients manage the details of their accounts, including paying invoices via credit card, built using a software development kit from Insite that lets AmeriPride pull information into the portal from its accounting and inventory management software. Soon, AmeriPride plans to also provide its field sales reps access to the customer portal to assist in account management visits.
Steiner says the extended online offerings are helping AmeriPride and its customers better manage records of customer orders and invoices—which now can all be done digitally instead of in paper—and also providing customers with transparency into their spending budgets and inventory records. “It lets companies with multiple locations to see how much each location is using our services,” he says.
He adds that AmeriPride has no plans to cut back its staff of sales reps as more customers conduct more of their purchasing online. As small clients like convenience stores use the web to order linens, uniforms and cleaning supplies for small, individual stores, that will free up its sales reps to spend more time managing far more complex orders from large restaurant chains, which often want personal assistance in figuring out orders for tablecloths and wait staff, and cooking staff uniforms based on fluctuating levels of business volume. “A self-service c-store contract might be $35 a week, but a restaurant client might be $600 hundred or more a week—and that’s a better use of a sales rep’s time.”
AmeriPride’s new e-commerce technology was developed with responsive design, which enables web content to properly render on mobile devices as well as on desktop and laptops. By early next year, Steiner says, AmeriPride plan to provide its field sales reps with computer tablets for accessing customer records instead of having to lug around stacks of paper.
AmeriPride chose Insite Software after researching other e-commerce technology platforms, but found that others required additional customization work to support B2B processes like setting purchasing authorization limits for a client’s employees. That was particularly important for dealing with AmeriPride’s largest customers, such as a global manufacturing company that uses AmeriPride’s services across hundreds of locations and wants to manage purchasing from its headquarters while also granting purchasing authorizations to each location. “Insite understands how to manage multiple buyers with different purchasing responsibilities,” Steiner says. “We didn’t have to explain that to them or have to customize their technology.”
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