Agilant and Sure Controls: Building a Magical Business Relationship One Order at a Time
by Ken Gifford
Businesses aren’t built on magic. They’re based on relationships that you cultivate over time. I’m talking years—even decades. A conversation you had ten years ago can yield a sale next week. The temp you hired to help you with an audit in 2013 is now your biggest client’s comptroller. You get the picture.
I’ve spent 18 years at Sure Controls building relationships. As a one-man IT department, it’s a big part of what I do. To stay on top of our internal computing needs, and to better serve our customers, I’ve had to think in the long term. Like everything else, our industry is changing. Technology never stops evolving, and the best way to prepare for what’s coming next is to understand what came before.
The Changing Face of Industrial Automation
Sure Controls is an industrial automation company. We’ve been in business since 1984. Our team provides industrial process solutions and automation products to the manufacturing sector. This includes everything from assembly line robots, to control modules and networking equipment.
To get an idea of how much things have changed, you need only look at robotics. Twenty or thirty years ago, we were talking about robots replacing human workers. These days, industrial robots work alongside their human counterparts. They take care of repetitive tasks, freeing people to handle higher-level work.
IT is constantly changing. Find a service provider who adapts with the times.
Another recent development is manufacturing intelligence: a branch of industrial IT. Automated and interconnected manufacturing processes generate a lot of valuable data that can facilitate everyday operations, help long-term planning, and fundamentally transform a business. MI software can track inventory, forecast maintenance schedules, and help a company move to an on-demand production model. It may be old news to my clients in California, but it’s the next big thing for some of our customers here in Wisconsin.
I’m always on the go here. No two days are the same. On Monday, I might be in the field, helping a customer add cloud-based MI tools to their production line. On Tuesday, you’ll find me setting up desktops for our sales team. This weekend, I’ll be at home patching servers.
With so much to do, and so many changes in this industry, I need a rock-steady supplier of IT goods and services. For the last 10 years, my go-to has been Agilant Solutions, Inc.
A Trusted Business Relationship
I didn’t choose Agilant out of the blue. My current account rep is Deborah Parchment, who previously handled the Sure Controls account at CDW. When she moved to Agilant, we switched suppliers. She’s that good. I reasoned that any company hiring her was top notch, and I wasn’t wrong.
Businesses are based on relationships that you cultivate over time. When you find a trusted vendor, stick with them.
Deborah is a bit of a Jedi. She can sense a disturbance in the Force. She knows our product and maintenance cycles and is constantly checking up on me. She’ll often offer a solution to a problem that has yet to emerge. She’ll call to say our sales department’s desktops aren’t compatible with next month’s Microsoft Windows update. “How are we going to handle this?” she’ll ask. The key word being “we.”
Last year, as part of our three-year upgrade schedule, I ordered new laptops for our engineers, but I got the display resolution wrong. Fixing this wasn’t only a matter of dropping in a higher resolution panel. Some of the machines needed new cables to connect the displays. Deborah worked with the manufacturer to correct my mistake. I dropped the ball. She picked it up, and everyone was happy.
Another time, I was having problems with one of our Hewlett-Packard servers. “Let me get back to you,” she said. Ten minutes later, Deborah put me on a conference call with someone from HP.
Then there’s the matter of software licenses, which can be like the stairs at Hogwarts. You know in Harry Potter how they’d walk up the steps back to their dorms and the stairs would always change? That’s how licensing works. The terms and conditions are constantly altered. But since we buy all our software licenses through Agilant, Deborah makes sure we understand what we’re getting. If she can’t answer our questions, she’ll call her suppliers for us.
Other vendors won’t go that extra mile. If you’re dealing with a warranty issue or a product defect, they’ll tell you to call the manufacturer. Agilant stands behind the products and services they sell. Deborah is always going to bat on our behalf.
I also appreciate Agilant’s timeliness. Whenever I place an equipment order, I know it will arrive on time, exactly as requested. There are no surprises. Agilant has a portal that allows me to browse their extensive inventory. I can spec the items I’m looking for, email Deborah for prices, then track the status of orders and quotes in my personal log. It makes my life a lot easier.
Agilant has never called me on delivery day to tell me an item is backordered or discontinued. I’ve had that happen with other suppliers. As a system integrator, I can’t afford that kind of uncertainty. There’s no way I’m telling a Sure Controls customer that I’m behind schedule because their network controller never arrived.
Building the Future on a Smile
In my almost two decades at Sure Controls, I’ve seen the company double in size: from 18 to 38 employees. Industrial automation and manufacturing intelligence have moved to the cloud. Approaches to robotics have shifted and evolved. Sure Controls has weathered all these changes by adhering to a pair of core principles. The first of these is: “Smile to get smiles.” It may sound cheesy, but it makes sense.
When we deliver the perfect solution that meets and exceeds a customer’s expectations, we’ve earned a smile. When our technician reboots a customer’s server and brings their production floor back online, we’ve turned a frown into a smile. We may be delivering a cutting-edge industrial automation product, but the end result is customer satisfaction.
100/0 is 100% accountability for outstanding customer service, and 0 tolerance for excuses.
Our other mantra is 100/0. We are one-hundred percent accountable for delivering outstanding customer service, and we have zero tolerance for excuses. This isn’t about assigning blame, but about learning from our mistakes. Should something go wrong, we analyze what happened to prevent it from recurring. It’s all about fostering trust with our customers and staff, and building better relationships.
Agilant has played a crucial role in Sure Controls’ success. Deborah has come through for us time and again. If she isn’t on the phone with me, she’s talking to one of her suppliers on my behalf. When I call for a new component or a software upgrade, she’s often already on it. It’s like she can read my mind.
It may seem like magic, but it’s just good business.