Today Marcel van de Sandt and myself visited A.D. time, a customer of Exact’s subsidiary in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After having spent 5 days at Exact’s development centre in KL, we planned the morning to visit this customer and get feedback from their users.
Incorporated in 1989, A.D. Time is in the business of distributing timepieces, writing instruments and jewellery. We made an appointment with the managing Director, mr. Y.Y. Kwan and its Group Finance Manager, mrs. Franscine Low. She explained to us that they’d been using a local ERP system for almost 20 years, starting with a DOS interface and updated to Windows at a later stage. For A.D. Time, the main reasons to switch to Exact Globe were a) after making a financial entry, the entry can still be modified before it’s final processed and b) the flexible reporting using pivots, Excel Add-In or the Crystal Reports module.
What mrs. Low was especially proud of was the record-low implementation time. From signing of the sales contract to a fully operational ERP system took them less then 3 months. This included analysis of the customer’s requirements and business situation, training of all their users, conversion from the legacy system to Exact Globe, trial runs and final acceptance. When asked what was the main reason for the success of the implementation, she mentioned solid project management from the start (with one owner on both customer as well as vendor side) and a good buy-in/involvement of all users. This rapid implementation time and the positive experiences after going live, made A.D. time decide, almost without any sales process involved, to purchase Exact Globe also for their new office in Thailand. KF Chong, General manager of Exact Malaysia, told us that software is almost never ‘shipped’ to a customer but personally handed over. In fact, we ‘handed-over’ the DVD’s with the Exact Globe software and SQL2005 during our visit. I never realized this, but a simple thing like handing over ‘our’ software means so much more to the customer then receiving it in a nice box. No matter the size of the company, it’s always a considerable expenditure they’re doing so such a personal touch is highly appreciated.
Getting the conversation going
After some time, we asked to have some chats with the users of the system. Initially the staff, mostly accounting clerks, were somewhat shy and told us that the system runs fine and not much issues to mention…but after one of them asked a question and got a satisfying answer the rest got into the mood as well and we were busy for the rest of the morning answering their questions. When you talk to these users you’re of course considered ‘the expert’ and something you’ll notice almost without fail, is that it’s the simple things (tips&tricks) that can make the users put a big smile on their face.
Just as an example, we spoke to a lady who does sales order entry. I was already astonished by the speed at which she can enter a sales order, I mean seriously fast. But we did notice that she would quickly switch from her keyboard to her mouse every now and then. So we advised her to try Shift-Tab and arrow up/down in the entry grid to move between fields and lines. She tried and cheerfully alarmed a few other colleagues to come to her desk to see it for themselves.
Another example: the user in charge of bank statements didn’t know where to store the digital scans of the bank statements. Now Exact Globe has a very powerful documents functionality built in, allowing users to attach such digital files in every entry application. So after showing this to her, she now finally could get rid of all her local and network folders that store these files until today. Lesson learned for me from a product management point of view: the little icon in cash flow entry that marks ‘attachments’ is too far hidden away and apparently not intuitive enough for some users.
Final example: the users printed their cheques manually because they wanted a self-defined sequential number at the top when printing the cheque. Not something unusual, Thailand for example has pre-defined ranges for sales invoices as well. To address this, we’ve developed ‘external numbering’ for Exact Globe since update 380. Honestly speaking, this is probably one of the best known secrets (or least know jewel?) within our software…but it does just what this customer needs.
Just users? No way!
Another thing that really surprised me was the level of knowledge these users had about Exact Globe. They’ve been using the system for 2.5 months now and the functional depth at which they’ve implemented and are using it, is impressive:
- cash flow management: prepayments in local or foreign currency, refunds, internal cash transfers, cheque remittance, TT transfers, receipts for grouped or multiple invoices etc
- full logistic/distribution process including advanced price management, discount policies, sales commissions with multiple sales reps per debtor (and per order)
- warehouse management including interbranch transfers
- A long list of customized Crystal Reports either used by 1 user personal or reports shared within the team (nice to see, since this was one the new features of Exact Globe last year)
What’s in it for you, product managers?
But such a visit isn’t just useful for the customer’s users for receiving answers to their questions. For me the visit was also insightful, it really contributed to the relationship the users felt with Exact, it was fun and as a ‘bonus’ it gave direct input on some areas where I see we can make improvements to Exact Globe:
- Prepayments in foreign currency, in situations with highly fluctuating exchange rates, can be done but are too cumbersome
- Removing a line in an already entered Interbranch transfer
The picture at the top shows exactly why we’re in this lines of business and why I like my job: the smile of a happy customer.