Desktop Virtualization Improves Customer Service
These days, customers are very particular about the service they receive, and if they don’t like it, they have a number of ways to complain about it via the Internet. While customer service has always been our first priority at Miller Paint--a company that has been around since 1890--our old, antiquated computers and infrastructure were impeding some of our interactions with customers.
We operate 38 retail locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, centrally managed and supported from the corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility in Portland, Ore. Our business model demands flawless customer service, but we were unsure about what direction to take to improve our technology.
For instance, sales associates in our retail locations could not look up certain information for customers unless they used their manager’s computer in the back office—leaving the customers to wait. The only computers that the sales staff could use at the sales counter were “green screen” dumb terminals, which gave salespeople access only to our point-of-sale (POS) software: no Internet access, no Microsoft Office applications, etc.
Our sales staff needed fully functional computers at the sales counter so they could help customers on the spot. We needed an IT facelift, but faced a big challenge: How could we outfit all 38 stores, the factory and our corporate office without breaking the bank?
If we had to buy five PCs for each store, plus PCs in the corporate office and the factory, it would have been a major expense, including the cost of the PCs, installation, freight, licensing, maintenance and support. So we decided to implement a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to help us afford new IT hardware and software that could improve employee productivity and customer service.
We began the process by installing several NComputing virtual desktops (L-Series), which came with all the bells and whistles we wanted. This gave our sales associates a Windows desktop on the sales counter, complete with Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office and a GUI version of our POS software.
In addition, the associates had access to ADP’s payroll time-card system. For added convenience, we even put the virtual desktops on automatic turn-on so there was no lag time waiting for the system to boot up.
The deployment and training process for switching from a PC-based infrastructure to a virtual desktop infrastructure was seamless. We had our POS software as an icon on our desktop, plus all the newest versions of Microsoft Office and Windows.
We deployed several virtual desktops in office cubicles out on the factory floor in a kiosk-like setting. That way, production workers could look up information about product and manufacturing schedules.
As you can imagine, a factory that manufactures paint can be a threatening atmosphere for a PC. Think of all the dust, temperature fluctuations and other potential hazards. Fortunately, these virtual desktops are sturdy and can stand up to it all.
We started small and outfitted a handful of stores. Eventually, we replaced nearly all of our antiquated hardware with the virtual desktops, software and servers. Currently, we are running in a hybrid environment where 35 of the 38 stores have a local (physical) server, which acts as an NComputing vSpace host to serve the virtual desktops in those stores. The other three stores are running virtual desktop sessions from the remote vSpace hosts located at our corporate data center.
Brent Whittaker, our Scholls Ferry, Ore., store manager, is especially pleased with the changes. The best part is that “the GUI system has drastically improved our ability to help our customers,” he says. “The Windows-based platform makes it so easy to use.”
The bonus is that this technology can host up to 100 clients per server, and our hardware, support and maintenance costs have declined considerably. Another plus: The VDI uses much less power than a traditional PC, so we’re saving on energy consumption as well.
Today, our store associates have all the software they need to help our customers in a professional and speedy manner. Desktop virtualization has saved us thousands of dollars, and the computing experience is the same—if not better—than using the traditional PC/server model.
Kevin Connell is network administrator for Miller Paint in Portland, Ore.