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Service digitisation for a Pokemon trading card intermediate.

We took our client on a journey of digital transformation by optimising processes, modelling algorithms and improving workflow.

Full service digitisation

Our work with Black Label Grading covered many aspects of their business, including order packing, customer communication, workflow management, affiliate sales, an ecommerce store and CRM. By working across several interlinked projects, we were able to connect services where possible, and design with future development in mind.

VBA development

With the client’s budget and timelines in mind, we chose to use Excel VBA to digitise some of the processes as it would be faster and more cost effective for prototyping complex algorithms and workflows.. Choosing this approach meant we were able to deploy quickly prototype and deploy an interim solution which can be incorporated into the main application at a later stage as the business grows.

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A browser-based application

We built a custom browser-based order management platform and customer facing store to replace Woocommerce, manage internal workflows and automate customer communications. We developed bespoke modules which enabled or integrated with key features, such as an admin dashboard, order states, credit control and regular email communication.

This work was part of a wider service digitisation project for our client. Read more about it in the following case studies:

The challenge

BLG’s previous platform required customers to submit orders with paper documents. Not only did this add unnecessary friction to the customer journey, but it also made it difficult to track orders as they moved through the business. This also affected customer communication, which was a time-consuming and manual process.

Postage and third-party grading volume-based pricing meant that costs could vary significantly based on many variables, including the sorting and separation of user submissions, so we needed to find an efficient compromise that not only kept costs down, but also prevented customer orders becoming mixed up.

Due to the duration of the grading process, affected in part by the global pandemic, it would be essential to provide regular updates to customers to ensure a positive experience.

Our approach

Our focus was to reduce operational pain as quickly and cost effectively as possible for the client. With a complex workflow and many processes to digitise, we chose a multi-phased hybrid model of development to deliver quickly and ensure the client was achieving value for money. 

Processes that required customer self-service, automated communications and software integrations were built into a cloud application in phase one. Processes that could be completed offline, and required complex modelling and prototyping were developed in a custom Excel VBA tool which allowed us to build, test and iterate faster and at a lower price point, with the intention to incorporate these functions into the cloud application later.

Postage and third-party grading volume-based pricing meant that costs could vary significantly based on many variables, including the sorting and separation of user submissions, so we needed to find an efficient compromise that not only kept costs down, but also prevented customer orders becoming mixed up.

Due to the duration of the grading process, affected in part by the global pandemic, it would be essential to provide regular updates to customers to ensure a positive experience.

Our solution

A packing optimisation algorithm

We modelled a simulated annealing algorithm that processes 10,000 packing iterations in a single run. The metric throughout this process is a ‘goodness score’, which will ultimately define which combination is the optimal set of card bundles.

The entire framework was built within Excel, allowing the client to access the tool easily, and run it from any machine within the business. Being a VBA application, the tool can be easily modified, updated and will later be superseded by incorporating it into the main application.

Pokemon card indexing

With no database available for trading cards, we built a tool to standardise the process and support the client’s need to identify and index cards in a consistent manner. Building this tool in Excel kept costs down and automated previously manual processes such as compiling submission sheets for third-parties. The processes and data can later be incorporated into the main application.

An ecommerce store

We developed an ecommerce website to replace BLG’s Woocommerce platform. A simple, accessible and easy to use store meant that our client could move away from taking orders manually, with customers now benefiting from self-service.

By integrating the store with a number of key services such as email, Hubspot and credit control, our client’s online presence was significantly upgraded and is now a system fit for the future.

Customer email updates

Another benefit of digitising BLG’s workflow is being able to provide customers with milestone updates as their order moves through the several stages of passing the cards through the intermediary and back again.

An API directly into Hubspot enabled the website, database and CRM to easily exchange information, and customers now have full visibility of their package’s journey through fully automated messages.

International growth through sales affiliates

We distilled many of the applications and services of the original project into a customisable affiliate platform for European sales partners. User controls and permissions ensured that affiliates had limited access to data, whilst a bespoke calculation process looked after the often complex commission process.

Continuous workflow management

And finally, to tie all of this impressive work together, we embarked on a journey of service design, ensuring that all of these services are effectively talking to one another.

By implementing automation and finding a balance with human tasks, we were able to unlock several cost savings as well as moving the business away from a number of legacy processes.

Client testimonial

“The team got to know us, our business and our ways of working. They listened, provided helpful input and automated many of our processes to get us ready for volume, and allow us to focus on growing the business. Whilst custom software is quite a technical undertaking, we felt well informed and in safe hands at each stage and are happy with the outcome of a brilliant series of projects.” John Parker, Director, Black Label Grading

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