29 HPM 0413

HPM April 2013

WWW.HPMMAG.COM Got a story? Ring us on 01732 748041 or e-mail twood@unity-media.com INSIDEPLUMBCENTER Seeing the business from both sides In the fifth of a series of articles about Plumb Center, HPM talks about customer service with James Eagles, a network manager who has returned to the business after a ten-year absence... Think back to 1996. John Major was Prime Minister, the renewable energy market was in its infancy, and a teenage James Eagles had just started his first job, working for Plumb Center in the warehouse in Gosport. Wind the clock forward 17 years and James has built up a wealth of experience, and in that time he’s seen Plumb Center from both sides of the trade counter. In his first stint in the business, he worked his way up to branch manager in two years and stayed in the position for another four. But in 2002, he parted ways with Plumb Center for pastures new, and didn’t return until six months ago. A lot has changed in his absence and James is well placed to give a valuable insight into the industry developments that affect his work today. “There have been some fantastic changes since I was last here,” said James who is now the network manager for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. “It’s good for me because I remember Plumb Center ten years ago and can compare it to now. Other staff who have been here for a while can take some of the changes to the business for granted, but I’ve been really impressed since I’ve been back.” CUSTOMER NEEDS James now oversees ten branches (seven Plumb Center and three Parts Center) and has a pretty good idea of the services his customers want. “Even when I was working for other companies I’d still be in Plumb Center all the time as a customer,” said James. “So I understand the local guys who come through the door because I used to be one of them, I know what they want and what’s going to wind them up if things go wrong. “For me it’s all about the service and the trade counter is priority number one. I had a whole agenda for today but I’ve been serving for four hours. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, if there’s a customer waiting we have to sort them out. “One of my biggest bugbears when I was a customer was looking through the window and seeing staff sat at their desk while I was waiting at the counter. I would just think to myself: ‘Hello? Come and serve me’. I’m not saying it’s their fault or they’re slacking off because they aren’t, the phones need answering as well so it’s a juggling act for sure.” There’s no doubt that technology helps improve customer service, and makes life easier for the staff in branch. Plumb Center and Parts Center have invested heavily in new IT systems New technology installed by Plumb Center has improved customer service and made life easier for staff at branches and telephones to streamline their service, and James is impressed with the new initiatives. “I’m anxiously awaiting the new phones which have been trialled in the north and the Midlands,” said James. “The best feature is customers don’t even have to leave a message but they’ll get a call back. If I was a customer and I called and nobody answered, I may get my gear off a competitor. “But if I got a call back saying, ‘Hi it’s James from Plumb Center, sorry we missed your call is there anything I can help you with?’ I’d be well impressed. The difference is next time they’ll phone us knowing they’re going to get a call back, so do you think they’re going to call? You bet they will.” When James left the business in 2002 there’s a fair chance many of us would have been walking around with a Nokia 3310 in our pocket, which was a million miles away from the sophisticated Smartphones on the market today. Nowadays more and more installers are using their phones and tablet computers to run their businesses on the go, so it’s important for merchants to cater for the new age of customer. “I’m a big fan of the new Plumb Center and Parts Center mobile sites. To be able to do business on a Smartphone is amazing. I used mobile sites as a customer and I know how useful they are. The great thing about the sites is you can search for a boiler and it automatically includes the entire flue that goes with it, which is ideal.” The mobile sites and apps allow customers to browse thousands of products online and check their prices and availability. They also include a branch locator so installers can always check where their nearest Plumb Center is, which can be a big advantage when working in unfamiliar areas. “I’d like to see Wi-Fi in every branch so customers can use the mobile sites and apps when they come in. The amount of installers with Smartphones and iPads nowadays is amazing, and they can stand on the trade counter and use these apps when they come in and we’re busy.” So Plumb Center and Parts Center have definitely changed in the last 17 years, but in today’s society no business can afford to rest on its laurels. It’s a tough environment for installers who are demanding the very best service from their suppliers and merchants. It’s important to move with the times and take advantage of new ways to make life easier for customers. I wonder what advances we’ll be talking about in 2030. 28 APRIL 2013 HEATING & PLUMBING MONTHLY enquiry number 121


HPM April 2013
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