Company: Fabcon
Contact: Scott Jenkins, Marketing Manager
Location: Location: Savage, Minn.
Industry: Manufacturing (B2B)
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 1200

Quick Read:

Businesses want to operate as efficiently as possible, using modern technology and updated email programs to communicate with their customers. But the manufacturing sector is more basic than most, and many of its customers aren't high tech—some don't even have Internet access. Fabcon, a Minnesota builder of precast wall panels, struggled with marrying its desire for high-tech operational efficiency and its need to service customers in the method that they preferred.

Fabcon's problem was exacerbated by the fact that industry standards require signatures on contracts: the Minnesota-based VP of Sales had to sign all sales contracts originating from the company's nine sales offices and then fax the documents back to the customer. It was a time-consuming process that created a burdensome paperwork trail.

Late last year, Fabcon decided it had to become more efficient in a way that wouldn't alienate customers who were uncomfortable doing business over email. Despite some internal resistance, the company installed an electronic fax service on 80 key desktops, including its sales department. The fax service allows Fabcon employees to receive faxes as an email that can be downloaded, filed, or forwarded; and faxes can be sent to customer in either email or traditional fax format.

The company now communicates more effectively internally, operates more efficiently, and keeps both high-tech and low-tech customers happy.

The Challenge:

Minnesota-based Fabcon provides architects, engineers, and building owners with precast hollow wall panels for commercial construction use. Customers can choose from a wide range of designs to help create unique appearances for their commercial construction projects.

The amount of paperwork generated for such custom specifications is substantial, including drawings, work orders, bids, contracts, and other business documents. Moreover, all sales contracts must be signed by the company's VP of sales and then sent back to the customers. The company has four manufacturing plants in the Midwest and Pennsylvania and nine sales offices across the country.

Moving documents among the various departments that need to review or act on them was daunting, said Fabcon marketing manager Scott Jenkins. He estimated that the company received and sent an average of 1,000 faxes a month on 15 faxes in its sales offices.

"Tracking the progress of various documents became a physical task rather than a simple electronic one," said Jenkins. "And the more we grew, the more inefficient the process became."

As an organization, Fabcon was concerned that the inefficiencies could affect scheduling, job performance, and ultimately customer satisfaction. The company began seeking alternatives to modernize the process and keep up with competitors, while still being accessible to customers.

"You can never forget that the construction industry is basic. It isn't unusual to have a fax machine in a trailer, but it is rare to find a computer network," said Jenkins. "A fax is standard and simple."

The Campaign:

After some investigation, Fabcon executives thought that Internet faxing, whereby documents are sent and received via email or a secure server over a standard Internet connection rather than phone lines, was the answer. They tried the service from the industry's largest supplier but began finding problems with it almost immediately.

"That service required us to download their software onto every computer in order to send and receive faxes," said Jenkins. "That was just impractical for the number of computers we wanted to outfit with an Internet fax service. In addition, the documents we received were in a proprietary format, so they couldn't be forwarded to someone who didn't have the software without being converted."

Jenkins looked for an alternative, and discovered that Fabcon's safety department was already using a service called MyFax. The safety employees helped Jenkins realize key advantages of the service, namely that when they receive a fax via MyFax it comes in Adobe's PDF format—and most computers tend to have the PDF Reader software already installed.

"Everyone here can open those already without any extra effort, and without having to download special-use software," Jenkins said.

In Nov. 06, Fabcon decided to install MyFax to 80 of its computer desktops; the changeover was simple, since MyFax handles all of the back end work and administration. Every user was assigned an individual toll-free number by MyFax, allowing users to send and receive faxes directly through their email account.

These individual numbers had the added benefit of improving privacy and efficiency, since faxes are now delivered directly to the person who needs them rather than to a common area where they can be read by anyone until they are delivered. Having individual numbers worked so well that the company has its employees put the personal toll-free fax number on their business cards.

The ability to more easily share faxes when needed has proved to be another benefit. "Often multiple people in different offices need to see the same fax," said Jenkins. "Prior to MyFax, we'd have to send multiple faxes, which got progressively harder to read. Now everyone gets a clean copy at the same time, and that alone has made us more efficient."

The Results:

MyFax has made a substantial improvement on Fabcon's workflow processes throughout the company, said Jenkins, allowing easier approval and rerouting of documents in the sales department. "When you have a dozen faxes on your desk, it's difficult to prioritize them," he said. "But when they're in an email in-box with the ability to preview, you can run through the entire dozen more quickly."

Fabcon's VP of Sales, in particular, is finding that he is much more efficient now that Fabcon has a corporate MyFax account. "He has more time to actually be VP of Sales and not chase paperwork," said Jenkins.

The company can also respond to customer changes more quickly. If a customer who had been communicating via faxes suddenly upgrades to a computer system, Fabcon can instantly change its method of communication, maintaining a good relationship with that customer.

Lessons Learned:

  • Know your customer base. Although many of us assume that our customers must have email access and be comfortable online, that isn't always the case, particularly in rural areas. Fabcon realized that it had to be the one to change if it wanted more efficiency—it couldn't wait around for its customers to change.
  • Start small when introducing a change to company policy. Fabcon received some internal resistance to abandoning faxes altogether. "Some people said, 'if it works why change it,' while our IT department did not want to take on more responsibility (for maintaining MyFax on the computers)" said Jenkins. "It really helped that our Safety Department was already using it and could demonstrate that it worked."
  • Shop around for the best service. Fabcon initially tried a larger competitor to MyFax but was unhappy with some of the requirements, such as the need to download special software onto computers. But rather than abandoning the idea of moving faxes online, it tried a competing service and was much more pleased with it.

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