Beyond withstanding, it has grown substantially. Today, Lincoln generates nearly $1 billion in annual revenue and has 7,000 employees in 160 countries.
Such an established company could find it easy to be complacent, but the producer of arc welding and cutting products has tried to keep its edge. George Slogik, Lincoln's systems development manager, admits that a year-and-a-half ago, the company was a bit behind the curve in terms of its technology integration. But today, Slogik says, "We're right where we need to be."
Lincoln's customer service requirements are vast and include technical recommendations, product tracking and invoice resolution. The company's extensive product offering required a lot of guidance by a highly skilled sales engineer staff already dealing with time constraints.
As with any worldwide organization, there are many customer service issues, including dealing with customers in numerous time zones, maintaining sufficient staffing and providing order information. Lincoln needed to find a solution to keep up with its global customers.
In response, Slogik and e-business manager Jim Appledorn developed Lincoln's e-business strategy in 2000 as four separate but integrated programs. The project began with an extensive customer analysis that revealed Lincoln's customers wanted up-to-the-minute order information available online.
Slogik and Appledorn responded with a customized extranet called myLincolnElectric.com for customers to access information. MyLincolnElectric.com provides order and shipment status, inventory availability, payment history and pricing programs. By integrating it with Lincoln's back-end SAP system, all information is available in real-time.
Simultaneously, the company's Internet site was redesigned with state-of-the-art Web navigation technology. The redesign included an electronic product catalog for both current and potential customers. Soon, Lincoln will be ready to move on to the next phase and expansion. A business-to-business tool will supply product registration, warranty applications, tracking and order processing.
Appledorn says the main goal was to make it easy to do business with Lincoln, and great care was taken during development to keep it simple.
"If the tools required a lot of training, then we kind of missed the target," he says.
In the three months since its completion, the site has gotten more than 10,000 hits.
"Those are inquiries customers would have had to make in traditional ways," says Appledorn. "Potentially, that's 10,000 phone calls that didn't have to take place."
Appledorn doesn't think of the site as decreasing customer contact; rather, it enhances service by offering real-time data. The service comes in the form of up-to-date information available when the customer needs it.
The change has freed up 10 percent of Lincoln's engineers time to use elsewhere. Appledorn and Slogik expect to see an increase in sales of as much as 5 percent.
"It makes our sales department much more effective in doing the big job they're being asked to do, and that's to go out and generate new sales," says Appledorn. How to reach: Lincoln Electric Company, (216) 481-8100 or www.lincolnelectric.com