Service Is at the Core of Our Business Model
Thorsten Harke, president, Harke Group
“Harke Group started very early, around end of the 90s, with the process of digital transformation, so that we can meanwhile look back to almost two decades of experience in this area. We therefore see for us rather chances than risks in it.
A first and important step towards digital transformation was end of the 90s the upgrading the “backbone of digital transformation”, our ERP system, to a state of the art system of the industry (SAP R/3). With the new ERP, many possibilities for digitalization opened. With the numerous interfaces it offers, we can connect to the IT systems of our suppliers and customers as well as connect to online exchange and supply chain management platforms like Elemica as well as to online market places.
Shortly after upgrading our ERP, we also started our first steps in building own online shops. We changed our web interface and catalogue soon to an own developed database and product catalogue based on Typo3 in connection with MySQL and PHP, which we still use today. To us this solution offered more flexibility and cost effectiveness. In addition to our online product catalogue, we operate two separate online shops for the online-sale of our imaging (graphics and gravure) products.
In general online shops mainly make sense for business models where you can sell based on price lists or calculate on fixed formulas. However, in several of our business areas this is not the case as prices need to be negotiated and dealt with on a case by case basis, not only for the products as such, but also concerning logistic costs and availabilities. Too many factors are influencing in these cases in order to be able to quote reliable prices and availabilities online. Yet in business units, where this is possible, we offer online purchase possibilities to our customers.
Very early we also joined social media platforms and nowadays are very actively promoting our services and products as well as offering plenty of information to our followers in all main social media channels. Since many years we even use social media internally in our company group for keeping us informed among ourselves about news and topics within our company group.
In general there is a danger in the process of digital transformation to only look at saving costs, resulting in disadvantages for the business partners.
“Customer service” in this context is often misunderstood in the form that “the customer has to do the service”, i.e. inform himself and enter all order information into the system by himself. This is not our philosophy. In our opinion, especially in B2B business, where we are acting, it is important to offer excellent and easily to access individual, personal service and personally help our partners, wherever we can, instead of letting them alone and forcing them doing the work by themselves in some online platforms. For us digital transformation means offering the customer above and before all additional possibilities, services and choices, with an individual, personal service always being at the core of our business model.
According to the above philosophy and because almost all documents concerning the order process are digitized in our company, we are currently aiming at offering to our customers more and better online access to those digitized documents, also in business areas where an online shop is not suitable. In the B2B area several obstacles concerning data security and access rights have to be overcome in this context, as you are not dealing with a single, private person as in B2C, but with companies and hence many different people, changing positions, responsibilities and legal entities.
But those can be overcome and hence We are confident to be able to offer to our customers and suppliers this additional value addition to our services soon. Another step in the long-lasting and continuous process of our digital transformation.”