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Alley-Cassetty modernizes communication, builds a better customer experience

  • Alley-Cassetty Companies, Inc. may be known as a provider of materials such as concrete blocks, stone, brick, mortar and sand, but the team's mission is really about helping its customers build the American dream. This includes supporting residential and commercial projects, from the construction of homes and schools to hospitals and countless other businesses.

    Fulfilling that mission requires an outstanding customer experience, where orders are easy to place and customers can remain confident materials will be delivered in a timely and efficient manner. As it continued to build on nearly a century and a half of growth and success, Alley-Cassetty realized it needed to rethink the way the team communicated, both internally and externally. This led to a partnership with Verizon that helped Alley-Cassetty transform its key processes and, in so doing, better serve its customers.

    • Alley-Cassetty seeks to modernize for growth

    • Based in Nashville, Alley-Cassetty began as a pair of coal suppliers that merged in the mid-1960s and diversified into brick and material delivery following the acquisition of a building supply firm a few years later. By the 1980s, Alley-Cassetty had also launched a trucking division and is now one of Nashville's largest private companies, serving 14 different locations across Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia.

      Despite that storied history, Alley-Cassetty is more focused on its future. President and CEO Sam Strang wants to continue to evolve and enhance the way it serves its customers.

      "The 145-year legacy is the past, and our job going forward is to modernize and grow into the opportunities of the future," he said.

      Supply chain disruptions and other challenging global events of the past few years made Strang realize that Alley-Cassetty would benefit from some outside perspective to complement the expertise of those working in the family business. This led to the recruiting of Patrick Spear, who joined as Chief Operating Officer (COO), and Bill Westman, who is now Alley-Cassetty's Director of Finance and IT. For Strang, the mandate for Alley-Cassetty's expanded C-suite came down to answering a simple question.

      "How can we be the best, not just in our category, but the best business possible in customer service and customer communication?" he said. "As we [asked ourselves] that, we looked at our strengths and weaknesses."

  • Alley-Cassetty headquarters
    • Randy Huffman, Chief Marketing Officer, Alley-Cassetty

    • Beginning quotation mark  What it allows us to do is make more turns in a day and ultimately make more deliveries, increase customer satisfaction, and quite frankly, make more money because we're selling more.”

      Randy Huffman, Chief Marketing Officer, Alley-Cassetty

    • Disconnected phone systems challenge operational efficiency

    • Alley-Cassetty is not only managing a lot of materials—there can be 8 to 9 million bricks in the yard on any given day—but also a lot of people who need to perform as a cohesive team. Drivers, forklift operators and office workers have to be well-synchronized to prevent delays or incorrect deliveries.

      "We are constantly bringing in loads, and we're constantly taking out loads. So, the challenge is to get out as many truckloads as possible per day, and then also unload inbound trucks that come in here," said Marvin Eaglen, a Division Manager for Alley-Cassetty in Murfreesboro, Tenn. This isn't easy, given the company has to oversee deliveries scheduled in advance and those from "walk-in" customers.


      Beginning quotation mark  Despite the best-laid plans, unexpected changes can happen.”

      "We can have a load that's been promised to go out today and then we get a call from the contractor or the project manager and he says, 'Hey, hold up, don't bring that load,'" Eaglen said. "Sometimes even on the truck, we will get a call from dispatch that says, ‘Don't load that.’ All of a sudden you've either got to unload it or you've got to change your load."

      Kyle Hill, one of Alley-Cassetty's dispatchers, added that deliveries have to be made on time regardless of these issues because contractors are often paying masons or concrete finishers by the hour or even overtime. Plus, some products are perishable, and delays could mean they spoil before they arrive on-site.

      "A second or a minute is invaluable in the dispatch industry, because one minute or five minutes or ten minutes may make the difference between you getting a load out or not getting a load out," he said.

      Until recently, dispatching and coordinating deliveries at Alley-Cassetty was largely a manual process. Drivers would be handed a slip of paper, for example, with a printout from Google Maps and a hand-drawn circle around the dot showing where to go.

      The office staff, meanwhile, were using a complicated mix of three different phone systems that made connecting within the organization and across its locations difficult. If yard staff couldn't effectively relay information to the office or vice-versa, delivery times might need to be extended, jeopardizing customer trust.

      "Sometimes you don't realize you have a problem until you realize there's something better that maybe you haven't experienced before," Spear said. "This really is where we started that conversation about how we could enable communication to reduce the need to run into the office or to try and physically find someone across 15 acres." Westman said there were basic aspects of communication that simply weren't meeting expectations.

      "We couldn't just transfer (calls) within the company. We couldn't get in touch with our yard guys who were 100 yards away on a forklift," Westman said. "We didn't have a common thread—that same line that we could use to just talk to everybody within our company."

      Solving these problems would ultimately ladder back to what customers need from Alley-Cassetty and its team, said Randy Huffman, the company's Chief Marketing Officer.

      "One of the biggest things with the builders is their ability to get the house done on time, get it sold, move on to the next one," he said. "When we're a good supplier partner, we're helping them to complete their end goal, which is to sell more houses."

  • Bill Westman, Director of Finance and IT, Alley-Cassetty
    • Kyle Hill, Dispatcher, Alley-Cassetty

    • Beginning quotation mark  A second or a minute is invaluable in the dispatch industry, because one minute or five minutes or ten minutes may make the difference between you getting a load out or not getting a load out.”

      Kyle Hill, Dispatcher, Alley-Cassetty

    • Integrated solutions enhance company-wide collaboration

    • Alley-Cassetty initially considered canceling some of its phone lines to save money, but conversations with the Verizon team pointed to a much bigger opportunity to leverage the latest in communications technology.

      The Verizon team, Chris Prater and Bart Robinson, assessed Alley-Cassetty's biggest problems and helped design a strategic roadmap to help them improve staff communications, shorten customer delivery lead times and ultimately deliver a better customer experience. Strang said he was familiar with Verizon's product and service capabilities at a high level, but he was stunned at the Verizon team's consultative approach to helping Alley-Cassetty modernize.

      “We really didn't talk about specific services or contracts at all. We talked about how we could best be a modern company promising customer expectations and delivering on them,” he said. “Verizon brought a variety of different solutions to us, which integrated other aspects of the company into our business.”

      For those working in the office, Verizon equipped Alley-Cassetty with Verizon One Talk, a mobile-first phone system with 50-plus features that helped unify the business across its multiple locations. Now, employees are just one touch away from talking to anyone in the company—regardless of their work location.

      And, as Hill observes, this saves a lot of time. With dispatchers getting 75–100 phone calls a day, "seconds really, really matter."

      Field employees, meanwhile, were equipped with Verizon's Push to Talk service, which gives them the ability to communicate in near real-time when out for deliveries and send alerts when a route has been completed. This means less time waiting for a load. In addition to text and voice messages, this new solution enables field employees to share photos, video files and locations to demonstrate proof of service. And instead of just one-to-one messaging, there is an option to quickly communicate with groups, or even broadcast critical information. Rugged smartphones were also mounted in-cab with a CB radio-style receiver to let drivers operate them in hands-free mode. As Eaglen notes, team communication is critical.

      "It's really important that we communicate together as a team and stay connected with each other, as far as knowing who's getting what, when they're getting it and making sure they have the right thing."

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  • Alley-Cassetty employee using Verizon Push to Talk Plus technology on smartphone
    • A true partnership is born

    • Spear was convinced that Alley-Cassetty had chosen the right partner when it came to porting lines over to Verizon. They notified a previous provider of their intent, expecting a 30-day transition.

      Instead, "they shut us down that day," he recalled. "Literally at 5 o'clock on a Thursday afternoon, we were notified that by the next morning—in our main headquarters and our busiest yard—there was going to be no way to communicate with our customers calling us."

      Verizon worked quickly—and late into the night—to collaborate with Alley-Cassetty on ensuring the new lines would be physically configured and ready for staff by 7 o'clock the following morning.

      "We didn't miss a beat. It was at that point we knew we had a true partnership," he said. "Quite frankly, it was above and beyond—something I've never experienced before."

      This partnership led way to a digital transformation that enabled:

      Seamless collaboration across all business units

      For those on the front lines like Hill, Verizon's communication solutions are helping to orchestrate its workforce, from dispatch to drivers to yard to delivery.

      "With Push to Talk, you're instantly communicating with either one person or your whole team if you need to," he said. "That's very advantageous because there are messages that come across all the time, whether it's an accident that's happened out on the interstate or just traffic being backed up on the way into Nashville."

      When scheduling changes need to be made on the fly, Eaglen said the process of notifying all parties shrank from 10-15 minutes to 1 minute. "Everybody's on the same page and everybody's working together," he said. "Adjustments are a lot easier for us now than they were."

      Spear said the transformation has been equally impressive within offices that are now using One Talk. "We can transfer calls across locations," he said. "We can have direct dial four-digit extensions across the entire organization, enabling better communication, when we've never had that before."

      Increased productivity and revenue

      The math is pretty simple: The more deliveries Alley-Cassetty's team can make each day, the greater the company's opportunity to grow revenue. By using One Talk and Push to Talk to reduce breakdowns within the team's workflow, employees are able to know the instant materials are ready for pickup, and delivery times are shortened now that routes don't have to be dispatched using paper.

      "What it allows us to do is make more turns in a day and ultimately make more deliveries, increase customer satisfaction, and quite frankly, make more money because we're selling more," Huffman said.

      Reduced out-of-service times on vehicles and equipment also boosts efficiency. As drivers now perform daily inspections, they can use Verizon-powered smartphones and tablets to upload photographs that feed into dashboards reviewed by Spear and his team. This makes it easier to be proactive in tasks such as scheduling oil changes that help avoid unexpected breakdowns.

      Salespeople have also been equipped with tablets where they can access real-time customer data from Alley-Cassetty's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, accelerating their decision-making.

      Greater customer satisfaction through proof of service

      Evidence that a delivery was made matters a lot at a business like Alley-Cassetty. It allows customers to rest assured the right product was brought to the right location and is ready for use in a building project. Drivers and members of the field team can now do that by uploading photographs when they complete a delivery.

      Spear is well aware that employees are often reluctant, or even resistant, to using new technology as part of their day-to-day work. In this case, though, Verizon Push to Talk and One Talk have had a demonstrably positive impact on team morale. "It's been remarkable to see how the team has embraced it," he said. In fact, Eaglen tells how it has created some healthy competition among the drivers. They share pictures of their job site deliveries to show how well items are placed, then try and outdo each other to go one better. Eaglen notes "now the drivers are doing a better job than they were before because it is on camera."

    • Building a strategic partnership for future growth

    • Alley-Cassetty's drivers aren't the only ones constantly in motion. The company plans to move forward in its strategic use of technology. This could include deploying manufacturers' RFID tags for inventory management or to create a smart yard. Regardless of how it evolves, Spear said the company has come to recognize Verizon as much more than a vendor.

      "Just as our relationship with Verizon has been long term and will continue to be long term, we want that with our customers," he said. "I think from the standpoint of technology and the platform upon which we serve our customers, Verizon is going to be foundational."

    • Learn more

    • When it’s time to modernize the communication systems  in your organization, Verizon can help. Learn more and get connected with an expert.

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