A Bold Stroke Enhances CRM Through Customer Care Systems Integration

Bruce McCracken

Updated · May 21, 2003

A major factor and inhibitor to successful customer service has long stemmed from internal disconnect between departments, functions, and systems. While communication between departments has always been a bottleneck, communications between their respective systems has often been a cap, usually cross-threaded. Instead of standing for information technology, IT could often be seen as signifying impossible task.

A Legacy of Substandard Performance
Belgacom, one of Belgium's leading Internet service providers (ISP), headquartered in Brussels, had serious problems with customer care. Eric Pageau, a system architect and independent consultant working with Belgacom, explains the situation. “We had extremely complex legacy systems that were built in-house that had outgrown themselves. The legacy systems had very high operational costs and the customer satisfaction was nowhere near what we wanted it to be. We had a very big overhead of agents and the average time per call and cost per call were extremely high.”

“If you have separate divisions with separate data models, it is a major challenge to pull all of these together because data is segmented between the divisions,” offered John Ragsdale, research director for Giga headquartered in Cambridge, MA. “Anything that you can do to tie it all together, especially in real time is critical.”

Belgacom had brought Pageau on board to oversee the task of implementing a new customer contact system in four months to meet the needs of 700,000 clients. He was charged with deploying a solution that would increase customer service and satisfaction as well as reduce costs.
Ragsdale emphasized the need to choose expertise from outside of the organization to undertake such a project. “When you are trying to bring new software in-house, trying to get the IT department on board to take on the implementation responsibilities sometimes is not going to happen. Expecting IT to be able to meet your project requirements is not always realistic.”

Ragsdale continued, “Companies have a tendency to over customize and over complicate a lot of implementations. CRM is a perfect example. Going with the best practices of the vendor keeps the implementation a lot cleaner, goes live much faster, and has less maintenance and upgrade problems down the road.”

The mission was to be able to create a single trouble ticket for each inquiry, either e-mail or telephone, that is linked to the customer's profile for use by the agent. The nature of the inquiry was also to be routed to the most appropriate support person via a queuing system. Self-help through an interactive knowledge base was to be included for typical common issues. The new system would need to integrate with the legacy system as explained by Pageau. “It was not a matter of replacing it entirely; it was a matter of making it lighter and easier to manage as it still offered functionality.”

Pageau evaluated several offerings and options beginning in February 2002 and chose a bold stroke. The new system was not going to be one system or suite, but comprised of the integration of two software solutions by different vendors that had never been done before.

Pageau felt that ICM from Cisco of San Jose, California and eService Centre from RightNow Technologies headquartered in Bozeman, Montana, could be combined to offer the optimal solution. ICM provides multi-channel contact management, routing, computer telephony integration, and queuing to the most appropriate resource. eService Centre enables agents to access profiles of customers in any channel, as well as providing a robust dynamic knowledge base allowing agents access to accurate information and self-help for customers.

Pageau was confident that the open architectures would allow for relatively painless integration and implementation in the tight time frame. “The challenge was that it had never been done before and it had to be done rapidly.”

Pageau continues, “We adopted both systems in May with the concept that they could be integrated even though it had never been done. We did the proof of concept of RightNow eService Centre followed by Cisco ICM.”

Pageau selected Dimensions Data, headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, to do the integration. Dimensions Data is an official integrator for Cisco products and was recommended by Cisco. “We found their resources to be very knowledgeable and very capable of undertaking the implementation of the systems,” said Pageau.

Jean-Pierre Masini of Dimension Data found the integration relatively simple and the integration tests were completed in only three days. “Both the Cisco and the RightNow systems are very open and we could see that the integration would be easy. The Cisco system interacts directly with RightNow eService Centre.”

Greg Gianforte, CEO and founder of RightNow Technologies, elaborates, “They were able to build a set of scripts using XML and application programming interfaces (APIs) to retrieve information from our system. XML and Web services have dramatically simplified what used to be a horrendous task. Historically, you had to get a one-to-one match between the data models of the two systems and provide for some kind of transport between them. XML allows an abstraction of the data so that the connections become much more robust and more easily maintained.”

Pageau and Belgacom were both pleased that the objective was accomplished quickly and painlessly. The total time of development to full deployment was just under eight weeks.

Systemic Synergy
Not only was the seamless nature and rapid deployment a surprise for Belgacom, the results were also, according to Pageau. “We estimated an ROI of four and a half months; it was reached in eight weeks. Twelve weeks after implementation, the customer satisfaction level had increased by 18.6 percent.”

The new integrated system has yielded rewards and capabilities previously unavailable to Belgacom in reporting and strategic planning. “Previously, reporting had been far from complete,” Pageau said. “They could never evaluate the value of the figures presented to them. Now you can go right up to the source to track down and actually climb up the tree to find out what happened.”

Gianforte adds, “Any critical system must have instrumentation. You are going to want to correlate data. As systems are integrated, there is a business requirement for reporting and the tools have to be in place to do that.”

Executives are delighted and were unprepared for the reporting capabilities, notes Pageau. “Both the Cisco and the RightNow systems have very powerful reporting engines. We have bridged them and are using them through a single interface. For the user it is seamless integrated reporting. They have real time visibility through the CTI. This offers an extremely precise view of activities as well as SLAs and performance. It has dramatically changed the daily management of the contact center. The manager was very surprised by the results and had to change the approach to management.”

Ragsdale explains, “Once you have these integrated, you have queuing and routing for all interaction mediums. In one consolidated system you can see all of the statistics. You can respond a lot faster as you won't have to wait on the system for a month to make some sense of it.”
The cost savings are on going, says Pageau. “-mail has dropped by 78.6 percent. Calls have diminished by 26 percent. The average cost per contact is about six American dollars with hundreds of thousands of contacts.”

We Don't Get Fooled Again
Beyond the open architecture and XML, the major shift that is allowing enterprises to transform business processes so dramatically involves changing market forces. Vendors and service providers must now meet the specific needs of the business. Enterprises desire relationships to develop as part of their team with shared risks and rewards.

Ragsdale expands, “There seems to be a real feeling of cooperation between these vendors. In earlier days, every vendor wanted every piece of pie for themselves. We are now seeing that vendors are working together to make sure that they and their business partners can be successful. It is a much less selfish attitude to keep the customer satisfied. This is a market trend due to the economy and a great advantage for the companies shopping.”

Far too many executives still have memories of software sales reps promising the moon only to take the money and run to be left with software but not solutions. Hence they may be in the boat today that Belgacom was in prior to the dramatically bold and stellar stroke of Pageau combined with the cooperation of Cisco and RightNow Technologies.

Ragsdale sums it up very well. “CRM is a business problem, not a technology problem. We are seeing companies now do a much slower approach at doing projects by establishing business goals and sharing the objectives with the vendors. People are focusing on business process improvement by the implementation, not just the functional checklist. All of us are still fuming at the arrogance of the nineties.”

Bruce McCracken is a business writer with specialization in outsourcing. His coverage areas are primarily in IT, eCommerce, CRM, HR, and supply chain/distribution with focus on small to mid-sized companies. He may be emailed at [email protected].

  • Call Centers
  • CRM
  • News
  • Read next