A smooth customer experience is so important these days, and Covid has continued to bring self-service to the forefront. Web portals are critical in giving customers the optimal mix of self-help and personal touch. Liz Hill, Manager – Client Services Group at PriMedia, joins Brian Cohen, Multimedia Specialist and host of ADDcast, to discuss customer expectations, some key portal features, implementation steps and some exciting new enhancements.
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Brian Cohen: Welcome to ADDcast. I’m ADD Systems multimedia coordinator, Brian Cohen, and today I’m joined by Liz Hill, manager of the Client Services Group for PriMedia, Inc. Liz, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.
Liz Hill: Oh, you’re welcome. It’s my pleasure, and I’m really excited to be with you today.
Brian Cohen: Likewise. Now, before we get into things, can you first start by telling us a little bit about PriMedia?
Liz Hill: Oh, absolutely. So PriMedia is a full-service marketing and communications company that services the heating oil and propane industry. We have been in business since 1993, so we’re approaching our 30-year anniversary. We started out as a newsletter company and evolved to doing full-blown installations of your SmartConnect products for multi-office companies, from wholesalers to COD operations, etc. We work with companies, big and small, and we work with you guys every day.
Brian Cohen: Excellent. In addition to being a full service marketing company for fuel businesses, you create custom web portals with your inVue product and in the case of ADD Systems clients, ADD SmartConnect API’s. Can you tell us more about your role specifically?
Liz Hill: I’ve been at PriMedia since 2007, and my role here is that I am the manager of our Client Services Group, so I work together with our other account management staff to ensure that our customers are getting serviced the way that they expect to. Day to day, I’m working with our customers on their installations, in addition to other things.
Brian Cohen: Excellent. PriMedia has had a long relationship with ADD Systems. As you mentioned, you guys started in 1993. Can you tell us a little bit about when that relationship with ADD Systems started and how it’s grown over the years?
Liz Hill: Oh, absolutely. Actually, the relationship between PriMedia and ADD started before PriMedia was officially founded in 1993. Rich Rutigliano, the owner and founder of PriMedia used ADD Systems as his back office software when he was the general manager of a heating oil company in Queens, New York. The heating oil company was actually one of ADD Systems’ first customers, and the rest you can say is history. We now have ADD on speed dial at our office. Since we work with your company daily, we have relationships with everyone from Bruce Bott to your SmartConnect team, new business managers, and, of course, your customer service representatives.
Brian Cohen: Excellent. Now, what are some of the key things you feel like your customers are looking for from PriMedia in today’s market?
Liz Hill: Well, overwhelmingly we hear of two things. Of course, customer online convenience, as well as our customers want to alleviate some of the unnecessary calls to their office. A lot of that came from COVID and experiencing some short staffing issues. The way our inVue portal works is that it allows customers to see their up-to-date account information even on multiple accounts, if applicable, including things like account balance, payment due, last payment date, last delivery and service dates, last tune up updates. We can show multiple tanks and fuels, etc. Customers can also pay online, set up recurring payments and enroll in auto pay. They can also request things like heating oil and propane or kerosene deliveries as well. Lastly, we have installations that even allow customers to enroll in price protection and sign their contracts through inVue. All of these features have the ability to write back to ADD to automate it for the company as well. All of our customers and installations are custom for the company we are working with. As a result, all of our installations are a little different. Some companies want the portal to be fully automated, and others don’t. We don’t want to change the way our customers do business, so we accommodate those needs and requests. With all of this being said, the features that allow the customers to have those online conveniences helps to alleviate the non-emergency calls to the office. This is especially important during the height of the heating season. The other thing, and probably most importantly, we hear that our customers are getting paid faster, and they’re getting more deliveries from our portals as well.
Brian Cohen: Going off of what you just said, do you feel like, in this post COVID world, companies are leaning towards the automated end of things, or are they leaning more towards the personal one-on-one touch with people across the board?
Liz Hill: Honestly, I’m seeing a mixed bag. I have companies that are full-blown automated, including new customer enrollment, where we can check customer credit scores. On the opposite end of things, I have a company that was really hesitant to be fully automated, because they wanted their CSR’s to have that personal touch. It depends. In those instances, it’s not the one truck operator that wants it fully automated or the company that has 35,000 customers. It runs the gamut of what our companies want to do. I don’t have a hard and fast answer on that, except that the industry is pretty divided in terms of automated versus still having a little bit of a personal touch. If I had to say, I guess people are going a little bit more towards automation, because with COVID and quarantine protocols, there were difficulties like not having enough office staff to accommodate some things.
Brian Cohen: Looking more generally, how does PriMedia work with customers to integrate your services with back office software, such as what we provide at ADD Systems?
Liz Hill: I’m just going to take you through our full process. Of course, every company is different so we don’t offer a one-size-fits-all approach. The first thing that we do is we speak with a company representative and figure out what version of ADD they’re on, as well as if they have any SmartConnect modules, then we work from there.
Brian Cohen: For people new to ADD, we offer multiple SmartConnect modules, depending on what data the portal needs access to. It may be accounts receivable data, delivery data, service data, etc. Liz, what are the next steps?
Liz Hill: At that point, depending on what the company has, we have a discussion about two things: day- to-day practices in the office and whether or not they have different divisions and, if they have different offices, if those divisions work differently compared to other divisions. We want to know all of that before we go ahead and demo anything. Once we have all that information, we conduct a demo for the company. We have a full inVue portal set up so our customers can see what we have to offer. From there, we decide if a company needs something fully automated and evaluate what features we want to customize for the specific company. We do this all before we even get started because we want to be sure we’re all on the same page.
Brian Cohen: And what about companies with multiple divisions or multiple accounts receivable databases?
Liz Hill: If they do have multiple offices, we want to make sure that we have all of the AR’s in place. We want to make sure that our inVue portal recognizes those people, and then, if AR2 offers a service, but AR3 doesn’t, we want to make sure that that’s all in play as well. That’s basically how we get started with a customer, and then we work together with your teams to be sure that we are writing things back to the correct places. We’re working with Trina Dillon and your SmartConnect department to be sure that the company knows where to look for certain things and that we’re working together. That’s how we work in a nutshell.
Brian Cohen: I’d like to drill down into that process a little bit more. How long might it take to finish an inVue portal integration with back office software?
Liz Hill: Well, our standard inVue is somewhere between three and four weeks. It can vary because we offer different modules. For instance, if a customer wants our PricePoint module, connected with SLLP(Special Liquid Product Pricing) in addition to inVue, we might say to the customer “Hey, let’s get inVue done.” Depending on the timeline, we go ahead and phase in the price point installation. If there are other customizations, we want to make sure that we account for those as well. Overall, though, our standard inVue is three to four weeks and then anything else we do a phased in approach. We can also back into a date. For example, if we have a customer starting their price protection season on May 15, we’re going to back into that date for that customer.
Brian Cohen: ADD Systems users covers a broad spectrum of the energy industry. What type of energy companies does PriMedia have experience working with and are there some that you may have more experience than with others?
Liz Hill: Primarily so we work with heating oil, propane and kerosene companies. Most of our customers are dual fuel or even all fuels, so we work according to the fuel and according to the customer. We also work with customers from a full-service dealer, to a COD company, to multi-state office companies, to wholesalers. We work with your WDMS modules that allow us to provide portals for our wholesalers, so that their companies can go and purchase gasoline and other products that way. Truthfully, there’s no company too big or too small for us. Our motto is if we get the data, we can work with it. We don’t care if it’s a one-truck operation or a company with 100,000 customers. It’s all the same to us.
Brian Cohen: Let’s say a client has a presence already online, and they have a website already in place. Do you approach that situation differently with that customer?
Liz Hill: The only thing that’s different for us is that we want to make sure that our portal looks like their current website. To do so, we ask the company we’re working with to put us in contact with their website provider, so we can take assets like the header and footer off their current website to build our inVue portals. We want the portal to look and feel like the website, because we pride ourselves in ensuring that the end customer has a seamless experience between us and the company we are working with. Speaking from personal experience, I believe people would feel uncomfortable if they knew they were going somewhere else. We want to avoid that by making sure that our portals look the same as the company’s website. Outside of that, everything else works exactly the same way. If for some reason, we can’t accommodate the header or footer, we have a full creative staff that can replicate those headers and footers to ensure that our customer has a great portal experience.
Brian Cohen: Now with a post COVID world hopefully approaching us all, are there any hot topics that are trending these days with your clients and customers?
Liz Hill: Hot Topics? Yes. Always device responsiveness and apps. Our customers want to make sure that their customers can do everything on a cell phone without pinching and zooming and having a cumbersome experience. That’s been a topic for many years and is still a hot topic, so we provide apps for Android and iOS. The next hot topic is automation. Our customers want online payments and deliveries to write back. They want to be notified when something is happening without assigning a CSR to typing in something that’s already done. The last hot topic is reviews. All of our customers want good reviews, so we integrate with the ADD software to automate emails. We automate emails to our customers after each service or delivery call. The email prompts the customer to write a review on Google, Facebook, or Yelp, and we offer a space within the email to file a complaint that gets sent to a secure forum. This gives that customer an opportunity to complain in a private setting and not on Google for the public to see. Within the last six months, reviews have been pretty hot in terms of what we’re seeing and what our customers are requesting of us. They want reviews because they want their customers to feel good about doing business with them.
Brian Cohen: So what new projects are currently in the PriMedia pipeline right now?
Liz Hill: Well, breaking news. Due to the dramatic price increases that customers have had across the board over the last couple of weeks, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better, PriMedia is creating an offshoot of our price protection enrollment process for budget plan enrollments. Now, our budget plan enrollments are going to take the ADD software and data to check the account usage history and to set up recurring payments that write back for the customer. It’s another automated process, but within the last couple of days, we’ve heard a lot of our customers talk about their budget plan, so we decided we should make that automated. We talked about that just this morning and we’re working on it right now. Over the last few months, we had a request to integrate our new customer enrollment process with our COD ordering platform and, of course, SmartConnect. We have a COD ordering process with SmartConnect integrated, as well as our new customer enrollment process. In a nutshell, that means a customer goes on to the website, the website checks against ADD’s database to see if that person is a customer already, if that person is a customer, the delivery gets written back along with a payment and then a delivery ticket is created. If that customer is a brand new customer for that company, the order gets pushed through to ADD. At that point, it double checks to ensure it is not a duplicate customer. If a customer has an account number, but a different phone number, then we flag it to eliminate duplicate customers. If the customer is brand new, their information gets sent to ADD, along with the payment and a customer account number is created, the payment is put on the account, and the delivery ticket is created. We also allow that person to log in online almost immediately. That was a very special request that we just implemented. Something else we’re working on is our LeadPro product. We’ve had that for many years, and we’re revamping that now to include things like emailing directly from our LeadPro product, integrating ADD Systems with it to eliminate double entries, and integrating texting features so salespeople can text the customer directly from LeadPro, if needed. We’re always working and tinkering on things. But today, like I said, breaking news, we are working on a budget plan enrollment officially.
Brian Cohen: Well, if the last few years have taught us anything at all, it’s that the future is always met with a little bit of uncertainty. So as you peer deeper into your proverbial crystal ball, what do you see ahead for PriMedia as we navigate into the future?
Liz Hill: I know that we’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing for the last 30 years. We’re going to continue to innovate and create new products. We’re going to keep up with the changing technology and the needs of our customers. That’s what has kept us going strong for 30 years, and I know in the next 30 years and beyond, we’re going to be doing that exact thing.
Brian Cohen: PriMedia has been a longtime exhibitor at ADD Systems’ Business Tech Conference (BTC), can you share a little bit about your experiences at the BTC, and why it’s important for you as an exhibitor as well as for maybe those in attendance? May of 2023 will be here before you know it.
Liz Hill: Well, I gotta tell you, we’re really excited about the upcoming BTC because we certainly missed it due to COVID. One thing we always say about your conference is that it’s a perfect mix of great information, learning and play. As an exhibitor, that’s best for us because we get to establish relationships with users because people are a bit more relaxed and open to building new relationships. PriMedia leaves the BTC with more knowledge and great leads on people because the attendees are just as serious about ADD products as we are serious about our relationship with ADD. Truthfully, the caliber of leads that we get are great. Also, the opportunities that you guys give through presentations, booths and networking, it’s a homerun for us. You guys do a wonderful job creating a relaxed environment to help initiate relationships and goals that we have coming back.
Brian Cohen: If somebody would like to get in touch with you or someone at PriMedia to learn more, or if they have some questions after listening to this interview, how can they go about contacting you?
Liz Hill: They can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.smartconnect.getinvue.com for information on inVue products, or visit our main website at www.goprimedia.com. You can also call 516-222-2041 and ask for Liz. I’ll be happy to answer any questions and to take you through the process as well.
Brian Cohen: Fantastic. Liz, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.
Liz Hill: You’re welcome! Thanks for having us.
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