Case Study: Sanlam Life and Siebel Service

Blake Rohrbacher

Updated · May 15, 2002

Sanlam Life is a subsidiary of the Sanlam Group, one of South Africa’s biggest financial services companies, located just outside of Cape Town. Founded originally in 1918 as a life insurance company, Sanlam Group is currently a holding company providing most types of insurance, investment banking services, asset management, retirement accounts, and property management. With $6.2 billion in revenue in 2000 and almost 10,000 employees, Sanlam Group is a leader in its market. Sanlam Life is the second largest life insurer and asset manager in the country, with more than 5,000 employees and over 2 million policyholders.


One of Sanlam’s key business strategies is striving to build strong, loyal relationships with the customer. Accordingly, they decided to build a strong customer relationship management plan. Their strategy was two-fold: While strengthening their customer service offering, they also wanted to be able to improve the effectiveness of their marketing programs.

In 1999, Sanlam Life had begun using the Siebel Marketing software in its direct marketing call center. By 2000, though, Sanlam wanted to move even father forward. One key feature of improving customer relationship management, aside from internal efficiencies and cost savings, is improving customer service. A company’s ability to track customer interactions and maintain a single, unified customer profile greatly simplifies and deepens customer interaction. Sanlam’s call center was using two separate applications, one for customer history access and one to handle new transactions. As a result, call center operators were inefficient and unable to capitalize on their customer knowledge.

Therefore, the project’s focus was on improving customer service in the call center. The custom-built application Sanlam had been using was lacking key functionality. Sanlam needed to capture customer interaction histories, as well as measure and analyze the types of those interactions. Since its knowledge of customer needs was spotty, it wasn’t able to serve customers well or provide them with relevant targeted information on products. Sanlam needed a new system and a new strategy, this time focused on service.


Sanlam chose Siebel Service software and IBM db2 databases to handle all the customer data. For Sanlam, the decision was easy. According to Ernst Mare, the implementation manager, “We were already using Siebel Marketing and so we had a lot of confidence that Siebel Service would be a very good fit with our strategic direction. We clearly perceive Siebel Systems to be the CRM leader.” Indeed, Siebel bills itself as the world’s “leading provider of eBusiness applications software” and has extensive experience in the financial services sector.

Choosing IBM’s db2 databases were just as easy a decision, says Letitia Van Tonder, the Siebel project leader. “It was a strategic move for us to align on the db2 platform. It gives us a robust, scalable foundation that we can leverage across our business.” A robust, scalable foundation is exactly what Sanlam needed, as the database handles roughly 40 million SQL requests per day from around 700 concurrent users.


Siebel’s software allows call center operators to see a comprehensive view of company-critical information about customers. Operators have easy access to customer contact information and product profiles. The software provides access to a complete history of customer interaction with sales and service, including inbound and outbound calls and other communications. Sanlam’s customer service professionals needed easier ways to handle customer requests and profitable methods of matching customers with relevant products.

In early 2000, Sanlam put a few call center users into a test phase of the implementation, and proceeded to complete the full rollout in steps until late 2000. By the end of the rollout process, the system was supporting over 1,000 users in three separate call center locations. Adoption of the application was more efficient than some similar efforts have been for other companies, due, in some part, to the fact that all the call center locations were operating from the same Siebel applications. This consistency keeps employees on the same page and diminishes the tendency to resist change and use old systems. Also, since Sanlam had experience with Siebel applications previously, there was precedent for changing systems, which eased this implementation somewhat.

While the call center was implementing a service-oriented application, Sanlam was building greater capability for selling to its customers. Sanlam Life’s direct marketing team was able to link their Siebel Marketing software to the knowledge created by the Siebel Service application. All inbound and outbound campaigns were supported on the system, with seamless transfer between applications. The call center was better able to understand what interactions direct marketing was having with customers, and direct marketing was able to use the customer interaction history to more intelligently sell products.


By all accounts, the Siebel/IBM implementation has been a success. Call center workload has gone down, while capabilities have increased. Rather than operating with two different systems, as before, Sanlam Life can use one unified solution to manage and track customer interactions across all its service channels. Customer service representatives can track phone, fax, and email interactions, all within one single application, which can also handle new transactions and present a comprehensive customer profile and history.

From a marketing standpoint, the increase in customer knowledge has led to a dramatic increase in program effectiveness. A deeper understanding of the customer’s history and product profile has allowed Sanlam’s direct marketing team to market more efficiently. According to Mare, new lead generation has increased by as many as 2,000 additional leads per month. He also expects that number to double over the next twelve months, citing the higher level of customer support and service enabled by the programs they implemented.

Customer service has improved; company marketing has improved. How has that helped Sanlam? Very much, according to the original business case for the Siebel/IBM solution. At this point, Sanlam anticipates that the implementation will have paid for itself within 18 months. The power of understanding their customers has enabled them to reach a higher level of business knowledge and functioning. The key has been their CRM program, according to Mare. “We believe we’ve made a solid investment with our IBM and Siebel Systems solution and that the benefits will only increase as we leverage that investment across our operations.”


The first lesson learned from Sanlam’s experience is that better customer service can pay off. This is not new (a study by Servicesoft Technologies found that 87% of Web consumers would visit a competitor if they experienced bad customer service, but 79% had increased their spending with a merchant when customer service was good.), but the results have been powerful and persuasive at Sanlam. While the CRM solution enabled customer service reps to be more efficient and reduce operating inefficiencies, the key was that those extra seconds allowed them to serve customers better.

A brief lesson learned from the adoption strategy undertaken by Sanlam is that planned, directed consistency can help minimize adoption pains. When everyone has to move away from an old system, it is much easier for the whole to experience and understand the benefits. Also, a staggered rollout can minimize massive change resistance and can produce ‘early adopters and evangelists’ who can work at the ground level to move the process of adoption forward.

Another important lesson from the Sanlam implementation is that better customer knowledge does indeed help selling. The increase in response to Sanlam’s direct marketing efforts can be tied to the increase in the depth of understanding a customer’s profile and history. A smart company using its intelligence to serve customers better and provide needed products at the right time – it’s a great thing to see.

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