Ecommerce is about more than just selling it’s become a way for B2B suppliers to digitally interact with buyers through unique customer experiences. Developing a customer experience strategy, however, requires the right mix of technology and internal nimbleness to meet both consumer and business requirements within a single platform.
When Coates Hire, an Australia-based equipment rental company, set about developing its strategy five years ago to transition from entirely in-store and phone transactions to a digital business, it started by launching an ecommerce portal to help with equipment management on project sites using Sitecore’s digital experience and ecommerce platform. It wasn’t long, however, before Coates Hire realized it had only scratched the surface of the digital experience.
In 2019, the 135-year old company partnered with Switch, a digital agency focused on the user experience, to unlock the full digital capabilities of Sitecore’s platform for both its customers and employees.
“When we added Sitecore, we turned on the ecommerce capabilities right away, but realized if we were going to create a richer user experience for customers, we needed to unlock more digital experience capabilities for our customers and internally,” says Kirsty McKay, group manager for Portfolio Delivery and Digital Transformation for Coates Hire. “It’s important to make systems and processes as easy for employees and it is for customers.”
Building an enterprise-wide digital experience
The goal, McKay says, was to create a consistently helpful enterprise-wide digital experience with B2B and B2C functionality to meet the evolving needs of its customers and employees on a single platform. Since implementing the strategy, dubbed internally as Customer Connect, Coates Hire has improved rental services and functionality, expanded its customer base and lowered operating costs.
Part of Seven Group Holdings, Coates Hire is Australia’s largest equipment rental company with more than 150 branches and more than one million pieces of equipment ranging from jackhammers and earth movers to scaffolding, generators and trucks and trailers.
A big step in achieving its digitalization goal, the company says, has been the integration of Sitecore XP, which includes Sitecore’s Experience Commerce and Content Hub apps. Content Hub, which consists of a webstore, apps, portals, and the internet of things, has played a key role in Coates Hire’s digitalization strategy by providing the link between marketing, inventory, product and customer-facing applications.
In addition, Sitecore XP supports website experience management, ecommerce and digital asset management on a Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure and is compatible with Coates’ legacy enterprise resources planning, customer relationship management and product information management applications. “One of the advantages of Sitecore is that it allows us to maintain our back-end business systems,” says McKay.
New digital solutions to serve customers
The integration of Sitecore XP has allowed Coates Hire to develop several digital solutions to better service its customers. Key apps developed by Coates Hire include Hire Now, My Coates Hire, My Sales, and Rental Industrial Internet of Things (RIIOT).
Hire Now is an online booking app for renting equipment and arranging delivery to the customer’s project site from one of Coates Hire’s more than 150 branches. Hire Now has helped increase online revenue by 65% month-over-month on average.
My Coates Hire is a customer portal that allows customers to view their rental history and items currently rented, invoices and staff across all their project sites.
My Sales allows Coates Hire sales representatives to view negotiated pricing or price quotes for a specific customer, availability of equipment and equipment descriptions and specifications.
Gathering data on equipment usage
RIIOT gathers equipment telemetry data, such as uptime, fuel consumption and how actively the equipment is being used once rented. The equipment utilization and telemetry data gathered through RIIOT helped one customer cut costs by 10%.
“Many of our customers break their projects into cost zones, so it helps to know if a piece of equipment is sitting idle at a project site,” says McKay, adding that plans are in the works to add telemetry hardware to older equipment that lacks it. “If a piece of equipment is idle at one project site, the customer can move it to another site where it can be put to use.”
In addition to its B2B channel, Coates Hire has leveraged its ecommerce platform to develop a direct-to-consumer channel. “We have always serviced this channel as we get consumer walk-in traffic in our branches, but the digital channel lends itself naturally to this space,” says McKay.
From an operating standpoint, Coates Hire says it significantly improved its ability to service customers through more efficient booking, relying less on call centers to process bookings, and having the ability to accept bookings 24/7 through its online store.
“We moved from a clunky customer experience to a frictionless digital experience on a single platform, and that has helped us deepen our relationships with many customers,” McKay says.
Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology.
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