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HomeGrocer has laid off 100 employees, Webvan ran out of key elements of the average shopper's Thanksgiving dinner and has been forced to defend its business model, and and, both based in Westwood, Mass., closed their virtual doors in November.

Despite this shakeout, ExpressPantry is gearing up for their official launch on January 12, 2001 to deliver groceries to Utah. With delivery already being tested in Provo, Orem, Springville, Lindon and Pleasant Grove, the Orem, Utah-based company has plans to expand to the rest of the state.

Rather than follow in the footsteps of companies like Webvan and set up their own warehouse, ExpressPantry chose to partner with existing brick-and-mortar groceries and hire personal shoppers to select groceries for its customers. But to make customers truly happy, ExpressPantry knows that CRM plays a large role in their operations, according to Bob Smith, founding partner and vice president of operations at ExpressPantry.

"Too many times, we take CRM and say, 'that's an application,'" Smith said. "The reality is that CRM has to be a complete philosophy of how you're doing business."

Smith also believes in complete integration of CRM throughout the enterprise. "We've seen companies that stop at the contact center," he said. "CRM has to loop back to every facet of the company to be effective."

ExpressPantry, after weighing their options, chose to outfit their CRM operations via Linden, Utah-based Center 7, an application service provider (ASP). According to Smith, the company had been looking at eshare communications, Inc. for their Web agent piece and voice offerings, and was pleased to find eshare offered through Center 7. ExpressPantry had also been investigating Envoy, Quintas and Webline, which had been integrated by Cisco Systems, Inc.

In choosing an ASP to provide their CRM software, price was a large piece of the pie, along with scalability. "We're in the small- to mid-market [sector]," Smith said. "Leasing is the route we would have looked at. Through the ASP model, specifically Center 7... we're paying a portion of what the application costs."

"We have the option anywhere along the way to move from one application to another," he said. "If you're purchasing a piece [of software] outright, you're locked into it for a period of time. With things changing so rapidly, we thought it was in our best interest, through an ASP model, to [be able to] upgrade and change as the market dictates."

Meanwhile, ExpressPantry needed to choose one of the software packages that Center 7 hosts. "One of the biggest factors for us was the agent-side interface," Smith said. "If [the product] was not simple for the agents to use, it wouldn't be effective. He noted that a lot of the packages that ExpressPantry looked at focused a great deal on the customer side. When it came down to making a final decision, ExpressPantry chose eshare due to the simplicity of the agent interface.

Other components of the CRM system that ExpressPantry plans to outsource through Center 7 are Kana for e-mail campaigns, Vignette for personalization and Oracle for the database software.

Using Kana is important to ExpressPantry, as customers receive e-mails on a regular basis to inform them of specials, Smith said. This is also where Vignette comes in, as "our job through Vignette is to make sure every one of the e-mails is of interest to [the customers]," Smith added.

Vignette also provides a great deal of personalization as to how the online catalog is presented. It adjusts the page to the customer's preferences and presents products that fit "within the customer's basket," according to Smith.

And since part of the personalization is moving to a wireless format, ExpressPantry intends to fully utilize Vignette's capabilities. "Vignette has been very strong with taking applications and moving them to wireless," Smith said. ExpressPantry would like customers to be ordering their groceries on their PalmPilots and interact with the company in whichever way is most comfortable, he added.

Right now, though, ExpressPantry's CRM system is not fully in place. They are currently using Vignette for their personalization and sending e-mail messages manually. Additionally, Smith's team has done modifications to the back end of the Web site on the intranet so that agents have access to customer's data. The company also holds regular meetings between customer service personnel and the distribution operations, which encompasses everyone from drivers to store shoppers, to ensure that the entire staff is aware of customer concerns. ExpressPantry also makes follow-up phone calls and does a customer satisfaction survey on every order.

"We're not where we want to be," Smith said.

To handle Christmas, the holiday season and the initial launch of the service in the rest of Utah, ExpressPantry has done modifications on the agent side to assist in CRM functionality. This way, if a customer, for example, receives a substandard produce item, the agent can bring up the order information and customer information. A credit can be issued or an express shuttle with new produce can be sent out, Smith said. Also, more staff has been hired, and additional support hours have been scheduled.

"We took an entire team of people and have geared up for extra orders through the holidays," Smith said. ExpressPantry will also be receiving queries due to their recent addition of online donations to the Utah Food Bank. "One of the biggest things is awareness to personnel... when an agent goes off the script, to have a resource plan for the people on the phone to get all their answers," he added.

Most of the contact center staff have two or more years of experience with telephone service, and one of the supervisors was the top supervisor for Convergence, according to Smith, who spearheads customer service, human resources for the contact center and technology and distribution systems.

The migration to the new Web site is almost complete, and Smith expects the CRM functions through Center 7 to be up and running toward the end of January 2001.

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