Grainger's New Site Will Provide Reps With Added Customer Information

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As W.W. Grainger prepares for the launch in May of, a business-to-business Web site designed to simplify the purchase of industrial supplies by pooling products from different suppliers, it is taking a similar approach to customer service.

The company and its five partners are structuring the site to give customers a more complete view of their industrial needs, while also providing service representatives with more information on customers' contact and purchasing history.

Purchases and contacts made by customers to Grainger and its site partners will be stored in each customer's profile. When a customer to the site contacts a service representative, the representative will instantly see what products the customer owns and a list of prior contacts to the companies.

Grainger's partners are Cintas Corp., Cincinnati, OH; Corporate Express Inc., Boulder, CO; Lab Safety Supply, Janesville, WI; Marshall Industries, El Monte, CA; and VWR Scientific Products, West Chester, PA. The companies have more than 12 million customers worldwide.

"It would be like going to different suppliers to buy your car's engine and body and other parts," said Jim Roots, director of marketing for Grainger Internet Commerce, the unit that runs and the new site. "Through the Internet, we can provide one multi-source way for customers to get the products they need. It will save customers time and money."

A key component of the customer service strategy will be eService from Silknet Software, Manchester, NH. The application works with telephone as well as e-mail contacts, which will both be components of the site.

"We felt customers want many ways to communicate with the company," said Robert Rosenthal, Grainger Internet Commerce's director of customer service. is also being equipped with the customer support application.

The Web site is being tested with 25 to 30 customers. When it launches, the customer service application will be used by call center representatives, giving agents access to each customer's total account history.

By next January the company plans to expand and personalize the experience for customers. Upon entering the site, customers will be able to access their account history to aid them in navigating the site.

The application also allows call center agents to communicate with customers through online chats, though the company has not yet decided whether it will offer online chats as a communication option.

The system is designed so that if a call center representative finds an easy way to resolve a recurring questions, the representative can post the solution for other representatives to see, or even for customers to see, said Michael Bettua, director of marketing for Silknet Software.

The application's browser-based platform contributed to the company's decision to select it because it made the program easily adaptable to the company's existing systems, said Rosenthal.

Customer service for the site will be provided from the call center in Vernon Hills, IL, that also serves, said Rosenthal. The center has a few dozen agents, and will add staff to accommodate customers to the new site. The amount of additional staff has not yet been determined.

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