Embarking on digitalisation: insights from Chuan Kok

Ivan Cai, CEO, Chuan Kok

Founded in 1982 by Jackson Chua, Chuan Kok is a homegrown company that has matured into a leading supplier of hydraulics components in the oil and gas industry. Like many other businesses, they realised the need for digitalisation, but, as a self-described “old uncle’s business”, they found the challenge of changing three decades of paperwork and habits formidable.

Nonetheless, strong management and a commitment to customer experience helped realise the change, a move that has been essential to their survival in the turbulent waters of the oil and gas industry, especially during COVID-19.

Beginning their digitalisation journey

As Ivan Cai, their CEO, recounted, the company’s digitalisation journey began in 2015, when oil prices dropped dramatically. With their business affected by their clients’ change in fortune, they chose to reposition themselves making clientele relationships their top priority.

As part of this paradigm shift, the team took a critical look at points of friction in their communication systems and sales flow in order to see how they could better add-value for their customers. Said Cai, “We reviewed each contact point that our customer would have to go through and learnt the need for better data collection – which would eventually serve as strategic customer insights for our own analysis and refinement.”

At the same time, they realised that they needed to be readily adaptable to be on par – or better – than the next innovation in their industry. According to Cai, this would be facilitated by a “digital, lean business model with the implementation of technology such as software integration and cloud computing”.

Crafting a digitalisation strategy

Agility shapes Chuan Kok’s digitalisation strategy. Cai said they believed that going digital would garner them the speed to achieve operational excellence and the agility to adapt and make changes swiftly.

At the same time, the efficiency granted through automating administrative tasks allowed for more time engaging with clients and learning insights into how to serve them better. Said Cai, “sales and marketing has been one area where we’ve been able to shorten the cycle effectively, by using tools from HubSpot to automate routine tasks, and create greater alignment and synergy across all our customer outreach activities.“ The team found an increase in revenue of 22% through the value-add activities they can now do, and are able to launch promotion campaigns to retain clients for the longer term.

Other tools and platforms that they leveraged to transform their business include Shopify, Weebly, Amazon, Infotech and Fortinet. “Our productivity has increased 30 to 40% since digitalisation, allowing us to deliver our promise of proving fast quotations – replying in less than hour,” said Cai.

Bringing employees on board

Like many other businesses, convincing valued long time employees who are resistant to change of the necessity for digitalisation has been an issue. “To ensure that our team members assimilate with the process smoothly, we were clear in our vision of the future, and shared with them that they were a part of our future,” said Cai.

“That meant everyone was moving forward together – no one left behind. It was definitely uncomfortable for some, but having each other’s backs made the change a little easier,” he continued.

Chuan Kok’s success in this area rests on the clear goals its management set for the digitalisation process: framing it as a process of self-improvement and a mission to help clients and win their trust. Its management team also put itself forward as a catalyst of change for the better. “With them helming the digitalisation and working with the new tools first, it helped pave the way for the other team members as standard procedures and guides were then put together with the help of the HubSpot team,” explained Cai.

Challenges and support

Apart from changing employee mindsets, another issue was shortage of manpower. Cai shared that finding team members who could focus on leading and executing digital transformation initiatives was tough as most were busy with day-to-day operations. However, these eased when the company set up their first overseas branch in Malaysia, allowing them to expand their talent pool and support the changes.

Support also arrived from the Singapore government’s various initiatives to help businesses digitalise, including MDA’s SMEs Go Digital and Enterprise Singapore’s Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG). “Amidst the recent COVID-19 circuit breaker measures, IMDA has also enhanced the support level for the digital solutions to ensure business continuity,” said Cai.

Reaping the rewards

Although the process took dedication and effort, the rewards speak for themselves. In particular, the team has benefitted from using Hubspot’s CRM to enable enhanced analytics, allowing for a complete view of a prospect’s journey so they can adjust strategies according to their needs. According to Eric Low, Head of Product Specialist, “Dissemination of educational content has also been a lot easier, further strengthening our relationship and trust with our clients.”

Digitalisation has helped them achieve their transformation goal of making clientele relationship a distinctive element of their business, as well as helping them reach new markets. “Having digitalised our business, we are able to offer another option for clients to work with us – with ease and at any time. We are also able to expand globally, scaling our business and increasing our reach to the USA and Canada (through Amazon),” said Cai.

Weathering the pandemic

Like businesses in many other sectors, Chuan Kok experienced a fall in sales due to the impact of COVID-19. It is in this period that their earlier efforts to digitalise have proven themselves. Cai explained that COVID-19 and the current circuit breaker measures have shown that technology is vital in helping businesses continue operations and adapt to the constantly changing environment.

“With the digitalisation, we were able to review the data of our services and clients so that we could quickly formulate a strategy to survive this crisis. We were able to stay closely connected with our clients, giving them the most updated news and supporting them – this has been especially important as we provide essential services,” he continued.

“From this, the open rate of our weekly email newsletter to our clients saw a 30% increase.”

At the same time, Cai shared that the remote access VPN established as part of their digitalisation efforts proved exceptionally helpful with everyone working from home during this COVID-19 period.

Digitalisation is a stage that all businesses, even “uncle businesses” will have to face. Chuan Kok shows that committed leadership and clear goals are key to making this happen, in order to realise a company’s long term goals and ensure survival.