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Afibel Customer Story

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Afibel was founded in 1954 in Villeneuve d’Ascq, France. It specializes in mail order sales of apparel for women over the age of 50. Today, Afibel has more than 1.5 million active clients in France, the United Kingdom and Belgium, now offering women’s clothing, menswear, items for the home, and well-being products.


Excellent customer service is crucial to maintaining sales especially in the retail industry. The IT Department needed a document management solution that would integrate with its in-house, developed business application and provide each customer service representative with a complete view of all client interaction histories (mail, calls, emails). Some key considerations were:

  • Afibel clients, aged over 50, communicate by mail in 95% of cases (order form, check, question, claim, etc.).
  • The correspondence team was using 4,000 response templates stored in a file directory and managed with MS Word macros.
  • A business application (developed with Oracle Application Express) handled customer contact details, ordering, catalogue mailings, etc.
  • The business application did not have access to customer letters, leaving the representative with no information when clients called regarding their letters.
  • The file server used to store 300,000 letters per year was ill suited to manage the volume of documents. The correspondence team was wasting considerable time manually sorting and searching the correspondence.


The various document management solutions examined by Afibel either did not include the desired features or could not easily be integrated with its business application. But after attending an Alfresco presentation by their partner, ALFEA Consulting, Frédéric Vast, IT Manager at Afibel, says, “I thought to myself ‘That’s it. I have found my solution!’”

Afibel’s IT Department prefers to suggest rather than impose solutions on other departments. Mr. Vast therefore asked ALFEA to present Alfresco to the head of the Customer Service Department, who validated that he had found the right tool to solve their business problem.

First, the Alfresco One server was installed and hosted on Afibel’s servers. It is synchronized with SSO and AD, and its database is on a dedicated server with cluster. Alfresco was then integrated with Afibel’s business application via web services. Finally, ALFEA built the highly anticipated multichannel view of client contact history (paper, telephone, email) with web scripts. MS Word was integrated with Alfresco Share and the 4,000 existing letter templates were streamlined down to 1,500. Contingencies for service continuity are handled through Afibel’s internal architecture.

Incoming mail is now scanned and then indexed by Alfresco in client folders. A dynamic checklist on the CMA dashboard (“Correspondence Management for Alfresco” developed by ALFEA Consulting) displays a list of required actions. With just one click, the correspondence team can select mail that needs a response. The metadata is retrieved from the business application (name, address, client number, order number, etc.) and added by Alfresco to the chosen template.

Mr. Vast says, “We went into great detail with template personalization by using numerous variables such as brand, call number or country language. We wanted letters to be as configurable as possible to take into account anything that may change tomorrow.”

Supervisors can now validate sensitive mail with a workflow. Letters can be checked on screen, without the need to print them. Full-color letter printing on blank paper saves on the cost of letterhead. Printing is performed in batches.

Mail and phone call records are accessible by all in read-only mode via a web page that supports advanced searches. The teams also have editing rights for their own data. User interfaces are personalized by country and by brand.

The new system was first rolled out as a pilot in France. User feedback contributed to adjustments and helped ensure that the solution is scalable. Afibel’s users may need to access up to a thousand folders simultaneously during peak activity. Filters now restrict the displayed data to only those relevant to the user.

Training needs remain simple because the correspondence team continues to use MS Word. Because the customer service personnel are experts in their field, not in IT, a lot of effort went into change management. Users, of course, develop certain habits over the years and can be reluctant to change, so it was important for them to understand the objectives and advantages of the new system. That challenge was successfully met, and users have taken full ownership of the project. The pilot participants have become champions and points of contact for other internal users.

It took ALFEA 80 days to install, configure and personalize Alfresco to Afibel’s specifications. Mr. Vast views this as a relatively short time in light of the amount of work involved. He is delighted with the level of customer service he received from ALFEA and found them to be very attentive.


  • The new multichannel view of customer interactions enhances customer relations and preserves sales
  • Outbound mail production is faster and less expensive, with no need for a dedicated tool
  • The system is scalable
  • Users have taken full ownership of the new solution

Afibel plans to deploy Alfresco in the company’s other locations (the UK launch will take place later in 2014). In addition, ALFEA has extended the use of Alfresco with a prototype for a recruitment management solution, including a workflow, for the HR Department. An invoice management project is also planned. Those two projects are scheduled for 2015.

"Finding Alfresco was a great relief but also a great fear because, as with every project, the deployment must succeed. So we conducted a pilot, and we took great care with change management. As a result, the users are pleased. Open-source solutions are undoubtedly an innovation factor for enterprises."

— Frédéric Vast, IT Manager