From Retail to SMB Customers: How Agilant Is Revolutionizing Managed IT Services and Asset Disposition
by Tony Romero
At Agilant, we expect our clients to challenge us. We don’t go to them and say, “Here’s what we offer here at Agilant.” Instead, we ask them to tell us how we can help them. Tell us about your pain points with your current process or vendor. Then, we’ll figure out a solution to meet our customer’s needs and outline how we can deliver. Prior to presenting our solution, we look for ways to go above and beyond our customer’s expectations. The rule we consistently follow is that each one of our retail solutions must provide our clients with a competitive advantage.
What works for Fortune 500s can often benefit a mom-and-pop shop. It’s all just a matter of scale.
This challenge-driven mindset is also how we drive new business. When we can solve a problem for one customer, we can usually modify the solution and make it available for other clients. The size of the company doesn’t matter. Something we roll out for a Fortune 500 organization can often equally benefit a mom-and-pop shop. We put it all into perspective. Retailer consumers, small medium-sized businesses, and enterprise companies often have the same needs. It’s just a matter of scale and delivery.
Driving Retail Excellence
As someone who spent 25 years of my executive career in retail, I understand that the customer experience is the key to customer loyalty. With today’s consumer electronics, there are several opportunities to wow the customer. Today’s products are far more sophisticated than they were even a decade ago. Tablets, smartphones, home computers, smart devices and even TVs can be challenging to set up and maintain. Even the most tech-savvy users can have a hard time with all the new features on today’s gadgets. The good news is the latest technology is providing Agilant with information-type service opportunities. Our goal is to help the customer get the most from the products they are buying.
In retail, Best Buy was way ahead of the curve when it acquired Geek Squad: the service that offers in-store computer services, installs audio-visual equipment, and sets up electronics in customers’ homes. Staples and Office Depot launched similar in-store computer services and were seeing success.
As VP of Retail Sales and Productivity at OfficeMax, I was given the task of developing and launching an in-store managed tech service program, the program was named ctrl center. It was my most successful initiative at OfficeMax. In the first year, the program brought in tens of millions of dollars in revenue at a very high margin.
If you want to innovate, ask your clients to challenge you
Business services, Print services, and Technology products were added to my responsibility and I became VP of Services and Technology Products. Our focus was to become a destination for the underserved SMB market. The senior executives were in agreement that services equated to profitable sales and improved customer loyalty. A team was assembled to launch a new store format to meet the needs of SMBs. But shortly after the launch of this new format, the company announced the merger with a large competitor. The expansion of services was put on hold. I then made the decision to move on and join the vendor side of retail services.
This took me to Company.com, a company focused on leveling the playing field for small and medium-sized businesses. Jason Blevins, who was responsible for Tech services at OfficeMax, also joined Company.com. Together, we helped them set up kiosks in over 1,400 retail locations to sell business services to small and medium-sized businesses.
Then, Jason and I had the opportunity to join a prior vendor of ours, M-PowerTech. I started as COO and Jason was Senior VP of Services. M-PowerTech was a vendor for a national retailer, providing an in-store electronics recycling program, in-store data services, and IT Asset Disposition services for contract customers. Shortly after joining the company, M-PowerTech began offering a central repair service, which was a computer and tablet break/fix program. If a customer had hardware issues, like a cracked screen, they’d send it to us for repair. We also rolled out a web-based trade-in service, allowing customers to trade in products in-store and online, thus expanding our services assortment in total.
A Forward-Looking Partnership
Our goal for M-PowerTech was to become the service provider that we always wanted when we were on the other side of the desk. A company that was fast to market, innovative, and having a great understanding of the challenges a retailer is facing and the knowledge of how to successfully sell services in a retail environment. We designed what we thought would be a best-in-class solution, but we lacked the technical resources and infrastructure to bring the program to life. We started reaching out to companies that we thought could help us. During a meeting with the CEO of Agilant, our largest customer at the time, we mentioned that we needed a partner with certain capabilities. Agilant had those capabilities and within months, they became an even more important vendor. We took care of the Asset Disposition part of Agilant’s business. We were de-installing equipment, eradicating data, recycling, and even smelting gear for them. In return, Agilant’s infrastructure helped us become a provider of remote tech support services for retail clients. It was very much a partnership.
The hub of M-PowerTech’s services assortment was our in-store proprietary tools. It is a system that takes human error out of the equation. With the high employee turnover retailer experience, we knew that this aspect was extremely important. Our objective was to make our software the center of all services we were offering. For example, when a customer trades in a device, an associate simply plugs the flash drive containing our software into the device. It then scans the hardware configuration, completes a diagnostic, and assigns a dollar value. If the customer agrees to the estimate, we issue a gift card on the spot. We remove the store associate from the process whenever possible.
In the case of technical support, our software can diagnose a computer and recommend a service option. Should the customer accept the price and proposal, an associate rings the sale and our remote technicians receive an electronic notification and complete the service. It could be a setup service on a new computer or a repair service on an existing computer.
With all the synergies identified between M-PowerTech and Agilant, we decided the best next step for both companies would be to become one company. The CEO, Sonny Chabra agreed to acquire the company and on March 1st of 2017, we closed the deal.
Scaling Our Services Offering
With the success we have seen with retail consumers, we decided to expand our services assortment to target small and medium-sized businesses. One thing that we know about SMBs is that they want to be treated as an enterprise business. We may think that a business doing $2mm annual is a small business, but to the owner, it’s the equivalent of running a Fortune 500 company.
Small businesses want to focus on growing the business, not worrying about their network or IT equipment.
At Agilant, we’re scaling up the retail consumer experience to small and medium-sized businesses. To better support this market, we are beginning to provide customized Managed IT services. To mitigate the complexity that comes with the IT industry, Agilant is equipped to provide SMBs with easy and effective solutions, so that businesses owners can simply focus on running their business and supporting their customers. We’ll take the technical aspect out of their hands.
The equipment lifecycle and the services are very similar to a current in-store experience, but the process for a small business is a bit more complex. A small business can lose sales if their POS system is not accepting payment or they could also be penalized for not being PCI compliant. Small businesses want to focus on growing the business, not worrying about their network or IT equipment.
In the SMB arena, one of the companies we have partnered with is Company.com. Together, we have created a monthly IT service subscription that best meets their customer’s needs. One of the most important components is the network and device monitoring system. By utilizing our leave-behind agent on a customer’s PC, Agilant will monitor the network, speed, security, and hardware of a device. More often than not, if our agent detects an issue with a customer’s PC, we will notice it sometimes before the customer even realizes it.
If a business customer encounters a technical issue, they can open up the chat window on our PC agent and send us a screenshot of the problem. Whenever possible, we walk our customers through the solution by chat or by phone. If we are unable to do this, one of our Tier-two technicians will ask the customer for permission to access their computer remotely. Once permission is granted, our technicians will take control of their computers and perform the required maintenance remotely. If the issues cannot be remedied remotely, we also have the ability to dispatch an on-site technician to the customer’s home or business.
Our SMB program frees our customers to focus on their businesses, instead of their IT. If they need software updates, we’ll run it in the background. If they process credit card payments, we’ll make sure their networks are properly partitioned to meet the standards for PCI compliance. We are proactive. Our goal is to prevent issues before they arise.
The SMB arena is a brand new product for Agilant. We’re going to pilot in April with a few thousand SMBs and roll it out to a larger audience shortly after. We have several companies on the waiting list. It’s a very exciting time for us.
Building on Asset Disposition
At Agilant, we pride ourselves on being flexible. We always look for new ways to help our clients. One of our specialties includes Asset Disposition, which is a service that we provide to companies such as Nike. This is a fairly straightforward business. When computer equipment comes to the end of its lifecycle, we pick it up, wipe all the data, recycle any components that can be reused, and smelt the rest. For reasons of security and environmental compliance, we certify everything. We provide all the necessary paperwork, reports and also conduct audits to keep our processors accountable. Agilant always looks for additional ways to add value to our customers. We thrive off of that challenge.
In our work for Nike, we were decommissioning a lot of high-end, highly spec’d Mac systems. This was powerful equipment the company bought for their various marketing groups. Instead of getting rid of the systems, we suggested refurbishing them and facilitated selling them back to their employees. We designed an employee purchase portal and made it available to active staff. Now, a production designer can log on and buy that quad-core iMac Retina they were using at work. Nike receives a report that tells them what a refurbished machine is worth, and what they made back. We can also take this equipment, donate it to charity on Nike’s behalf, and then provide the company with the necessary tax receipts.
Our team also developed a dedicated IT asset disposition portal customized specifically for Nike. A dashboard with granular access permissions, it features pick-up scheduling, full reporting, recycling and data eradication certificates by machine, as well decommissioning dates. This level of transparency, and ease of access, provide Nike with an extra layer of control over data security.
After our success with Nike, we were introduced to other companies looking for ITAD solutions to fit their current state of business. We were able to roll out a similar portal for Beacon Health, as the company challenged us to help implement what they call their “box program”. Other companies we’ve done ITAD work for include Prudential, McGraw-Hill, Canon, and more!
How Agilant Paves the Way for Innovation
Whether it’s asset disposition at the enterprise level, managed IT for SMBs, or product support for consumers, Agilant is managing the lifecycle of goods and services in an efficient and innovative manner. And with product support, environmentally conscious eWaste disposal, and data security, we help our clients meet and exceed regulatory and commercial standards.
Managed services helped revolutionize and innovate the retail landscape. Geek Squad and AppleCare Plus are not only powerful selling points, they are recognized brands on their own. At Agilant, we’re bringing this revolution to B2B. This has been a demanding personal and professional transition, but just like how pressure makes diamonds, the challenge makes us better. Just ask our customers.