Atlas Amplifier — Winter 2003
A new addition to the Atlas house is now open for business, and there's every reason to expect a host of customers will be "coming through the door."
"We were hearing from agents and customers that they needed professional assistance for managing their transit resources," says Greg Hoover, Senior Vice President, Sales Development, Relocation Services Group. "Specifically, they said they wanted a vendor who would operate from a culture of quality with proven success in the transportation arena."
According to Greg, the development team considered these requests in light of the company's commitment to integrity, quality and solutions. Was there indeed a demand for the kind of service Atlas could provide? Could Atlas enter the market with a product that would compete favorably? Would such an addition to the Atlas house meet customer expectations for quality and service?
"We determined that there was indeed an opportunity for Atlas," says Dennie Lynn, Senior Vice President, Transportation, Relocation Services Group, "especially with the many changes in the corporate arena, where the outsourcing of move management services are concerned. So we set about developing a business plan that would deliver the solid value our agents and customers expect."
At its long-range planning meeting in January 2003, the Atlas Board of Directors approved the plan and authorized the development of a new business entity. To move the project forward, Atlas Chairman & CEO Mike Shaffer assigned responsibility to Senior Vice Presidents Greg Hoover and Dennie Lynn.
Over the last ten years years, a crush of companies entered the transportation arena as "move managers," with services ranging from purely logistical to real estate to almost any ancillary function.
"The term 'move management' is so broad that you can ask ten different people what it means and get as many different answers," says Greg. "So, there is confusion in the market about what move management really is. We've chosen to identify our enterprise as resource management because we think it is a more accurate description of the capability we bring to the market. Yes, we manage moves, but we do much more than that."
Dennie explains that Avail was conceived to serve clients whose needs span the transportation spectrum, whether those needs relate to logistics or household goods, and whether the customer is a national account or COD Customer.
"Everyone who is involved in transporting people, products or lifestyles relies on certain resources. We created Avail to help them better manage their resources." And, according to Dennie, resource management can take many forms. "For some clients, we may fill a service role by providing a trained representative to handle telephone and e-mail correspondence with their customers throughout the course of a move. Or we may act as a consultant to evaluate areas of concern, recommend improvements, and measure outcomes."
While the term "resource management" covers a myriad of functions, the hallmarks of the Avail brand are contained in two promises to customers: the power of information and the strength of service. In simplest terms, it is these qualities that help clients better control their transit-related expense and achieve efficiency in their relocation and logistics programs.
"Avail is essentially an objective, systems-driven approach that enables clients to become more productive and profitable," says Mike Shaffer, Chairman & CEO, Atlas World Group. "Although it was conceived through the knowledge and experience of Atlas, the Avail brand is a stand-alone entity. Avail serves not just Atlas agents and customers, but any client that might benefit from more effective management of their transportation functions. This includes customers inside corporations, even other transportation companies."
In deciding what to christen the new company, the development team chose to underscore the service characteristic of the brand. And service, as Avail's Manager of Administration Jason Stowers points out, goes hand in hand with process.
"If we do not provide our customers exemplary service, we have nothing to offer," says Jason. "That's the key...and we have a process to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks."
The process Jason refers to addresses any eventuality that might occur in the service of any customer.
"There are a total of 89 distinctly different steps in our service process," says Jason. "Those fall into 18 different categories, depending on the situation, and not all steps will ever apply to any one shipment. For example, the process is different when a shipment is picked up at a residence, an exhibit hall, or at a warehouse. A different set of tasks is involved for each."
In a typical household goods scenario, the customer places an order online and views reports online throughout the move. The Avail customer service representative (CSR) sets up the survey, confirms the estimate, explains what it means and what customers can expect during their move. The CSR sends out a "move kit," — a packet of information that helps the customer understand the process and what the customer can do to ensure the move goes flawlessly.
As many as 65 steps may come into play for any one customer. Each action is a step, including the initial contact with the customer, verification of the date, confirming the assignment of agents, etc. To keep the process on track, tasks are tied to dates and projected dates, with triggers that ensure actions are taken at the appropriate times. Nothing is taken for granted. To reinforce it all, extensive training helps Avail representatives internalize the process so exceptional service is a natural result.
And though it all might sound complicated, Jason says it's really not. "The beauty of Avail's system is its simplicity," says Jason. "Yes, it's detailed, and every step is necessary. Yet, we have purposefully avoided getting so focused on details that we lose sight of our purpose...which is listening to the customer and answering individual needs."
Avail is testing its model on live shipments during the fourth quarter to ensure any wrinkles are ironed out before a full-fledged rollout in January. Already, the results seem to indicate all the planning and care taken in development was well worth the effort.
"Our service process works; we're now just fine tuning," says Jason. "Come January when we open wide the doors, Avail customers will find the expertise they expect from the Atlas house."