Expanding the experience

By Abbe Miller

May 2009- In an industry slow to adopt new ways to carry out business transactions, such as the purchase of raw materials, those new methods have to be fine-tuned for any hope of success. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Customers have to feel comfortable.

Novelis Inc., Atlanta, which produces an estimated 19 percent of the world's flat-rolled aluminum products, recognizes this fact and exemplifies it with its online material depot.

"I have a tendency to think that it's easier to buy a coil of aluminum on our site than it is to buy an airline ticket online," says Haydee Jones, manager, e-commerce services. "We took more of a B2C [business-to-consumer] approach rather than a B2B approach when we developed the site because we clearly understood that that's what people are familiar with. Our initial goal was to concentrate our efforts on creating a customer-centric Web site that was easy to use and that had an engaged user community."

The online depot was launched in 2005 and since then has taken on many iterations. The evolutionary process has brought the site to the place it is today--one that was driven by user input.

"Customer feedback is what has helped us to grow and develop the site," says Jones. "We believe that the sustainability and continued evolution of the Web is based on our conversations with our customers. We go out of our way to ask, listen, design, implement and thank our customers for their input."

A full shopping cart
Much of the Novelis ordering depot process is straightforward. As Jones mentioned, the experience resembles that of a consumer Web site. Customers simply go to to create an account, and within 48 hours of submitting the request, visitors to the site are notified of their username and password.

Once access is granted, a slew of Novelis products is available at the click of a mouse. For the majority, Novelis has made its common alloys available, in addition to a few specialty products that were determined according to popularity and customer demand. If one of those product doesn't appear on the Web site, customers can also reserve coils through the First Look program.

"With First Look, a customer can see what's incoming," says Jones. "If a customer needed a piece of material that wasn't in stock, with First Look, that customer can see that it's coming in on a specific date. The user can plug in how much of that material that they need, and they can add it to their cart."

Instant gratification
As customer comments come in, the look and feel of the site changes accordingly. Two of the newest features on the site are geared to immediate interaction between the user and Novelis. Instant Chat connects customers with their personal sales representative. Like most instant messaging programs, users can log onto the site and start up a conversation regarding their various needs.

"If you're online and you have a question about something, you can talk to your inside representative," says Jones. "You won't get just anybody. You'll get your personal rep."

My Voice is another Web program that was recently launched, which simplifies the process of offering Novelis suggestions as to how to improve the customer experience. George Pursey, market director at Novelis, says that in addition to surveys and customer visits, My Voice gives Novelis the chance to know exactly what customers are looking for. He says Novelis acknowledges every comment within 24 hours.

It's all about the user's experience, and it's all about developing a site that customers can feel comfortable using.

"The idea behind all of this this, beyond selling metal, is creating a tight link with our customers," says Pursey. "We recognize the fact that most of our competitors do offer some type of ability to go online and buy coils. And this leaves the average person juggling three or four different Web sites to make their purchases. Ideally, if we make it as easy as possible to buy metal, have a wide variety of products available, offer the ability to generate reports and also have an online chatabilty with your sales rep, customers will just pull up our Web site in the morning and leave it up all day. We've given them everything they need." MM












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