For Paul Ecke Ranch, the future of customer service is all about the Web. Number 5 on our Top 100 Growers list, Ecke completed an overhaul of its computer system in 2007, installing the new massive Ecke Global software system.
The program handles just about everything except accounting. The single system provides solutions for sales forecasting and planning, pricing, order entry, credit and claims, inventory, production, labor and materials planning, stock scheduling, invoicing, freight and logistics. All systems are Web-based and real time.
"Think of it like online banking," says Ecke President Andy Higgins. "I may still have a check book and check register, but I also have access to all of my payments, accounts, statements and the ability to interact and perform transactions anytime of the day or night."
Tracking Down Your Order
A few new capabilities of the software help Ecke’s customers keep track of product from the producer. Ecke’s On Time freight and logistics tracking system gives customers instant live tracking of any Ecke shipment through the Web, including those shipped via common carriers.
"If a box is lost in transit, we know exactly what is in the missing box so a replacement order can be processed right away, with less customer impact," Higgins says. "A broker rep can have this information mailed to his or her own account, a customer’s, or both." This capability, Higgins points out, is so important for floriculture because of the perishability of the product and because of labor cost and availability concerns.
"Many customers schedule labor in great detail and they need to know exactly when a particular shipment is due to arrive at their facility so downtime of labor crews are minimized," he says. "We believe we are the only company in the industry providing this level of service."
With Ecke’s off-shore cuttings operations, delivery time is a variable that customers want to keep tabs on. With Ecke’s Door-To-Door service, UPS and FedEx are the transportation suppliers of choice. Using their combined logistics technologies, Ecke has achieved a 48-hour delivery window from cuttings facility to the customer’s dock.
Another Web-based technology Ecke has developed for its finish customers is On Target, an online poinsettia height tracking program. Users input target plant height at finish, start date and starting height and the software produces a graph to track progress.
"One of the best features is that our technical staff can view and interact with customers while they are online to help them quickly and accurately answer questions and solve problems," Higgins says. "The program is offered in tandem with our On Board technical information bulletin board and Web site. We have more than 800 active users, making it what we believe is the largest online grower community in our industry. Best of all, these services are free to our customers."
Ecke’s customers have appreciated the extra effort the grower has put into these programs, making planning and scheduling easier. Growers have been able to focus on adding value to their own customers, while Ecke has improved the ordering and receiving processes, Higgins explains. On Time, the most recent release, has gotten rave reviews from all who have seen it.
"We plan to get great use out from the system this summer as we ship millions of poinsettia cuttings," Higgins says.
In the future, look for Ecke’s online capabilities to go mobile, with PDA/Blackberry versions of On Hand and On Time software systems, as well as even more data tracking, including crew, time, location, fertility, pesticides, and other records being kept with shipping records.