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A Community Gives Pitney Bowes Its Stamp of Approval
A forum designed to address one problem evolves into an enterprise asset.
For the rest of the June 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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For the rest of the June 2009 issue of CRM magazine — The Social Media Issue — please click here.

Pitney Bowes—offering postage meters, document management, and mailstream software to help companies manage their flow of mail and documents—must have unique industry needs. How has your company adapted to the evolving marketplace?

Postal-rate changes greatly impact the way our customers do business. It’s happening now on a more-frequent basis—and it changes every year. The changes in rules and regulations require us to provide a tremendous amount of support to our customers. A lot of times it’s providing very repetitive and simple answers—a high-traffic event for our customer service. We were setting up temporary contact centers, emailing instructions, and providing communication through our Web site and knowledge bases. We did what I think is your traditional preparedness.

What led you to take the next step in supporting your customers?

A little over a year ago, we looked at other companies providing customer forums from a customer-support perspective and saw that this is a perfect opportunity for it. One of the things we’d heard to do with a community is to build critical mass up front. So we leveraged that high-traffic opportunity during rate changes and established the forum—and that led to a lot of the benefits we were seeking. In choosing a vendor, our criteria involved more than technology. What we were looking for was both the technology platform and also the consulting side of it. For a company like ours that had never run a community before, we needed to ask, “How do you start this? How do you build and manage it? What do you look out for?” There’s a lot of cultural alignment. Lithium Technologies provided all of that for us. It was both a cultural consultation and a business process technology play, all in one.

How did you get your team on board?

The implications of having conversations from the public on your own Web site require a big cultural shift. We had to get senior management alignment from Day One. We put a business case together not only on the product side, but one that also builds upon customer engagement. This is something that our peers were doing. It’s also a basic way of doing business that we had to come to terms with in order to engage, adopt, and run with. We also created a key-stakeholder internal committee consisting of department heads and vice presidents in areas like customer experience, the contact center, business process functions, and marketing. It’s a cross-functional, very high-level team to support the concept operationally.

One key lesson was that when you put a community out there for a specific purpose—like we did in supporting customers through rate changes—the community then grows into other areas you may or may not have predicted. With this in mind, we had to draw our own boundaries of what we allow and don’t allow to be posted.

In what areas did the community evolve?

Soon it went from “How do I perform a certain transaction?” or “I have questions about regulation with the Post Office” to general support issues and product reviews. In order to keep robust and valid, you have to break down any walls within the organization and get the answers to the user. That’s what provides the growth.

What have been the main benefits?

We are confident that in just one year we more than made up for any investment in the platform from a cost perspective. From a hard dollar-per-dollar measure, we experienced a clear return. On the softer side of managing a forum, I believe it has led to positive impacts with customer engagement. With the feedback we receive, we’re looking to modify our business processes so that we’re eliminating any dissatisfaction. We’re also looking to optimize our Web-site design and decide what content to develop.

We are in the infancy of what I would say is the third wave of our community. I know we can do a lot more, but it’s about how you engage with customers on developing the next generation of what you should be developing. There’s no better truism than “Listen to your customers.” If you develop an engaged customer base, it’s a really good asset in telling and advising you how to drive your next generation of services.

SIDEBAR: 5 Fast Facts

How old is the implementation?
14 months

Who was involved in the decision process?
The Web-strategy team, the CEO, and senior management.

What’s been the best decision Pitney Bowes has made in the past 6 months?
The community has turned into a critical channel for us to understand the voice of our customers. There is an active cross-functional senior-leader steering group that analyzes the forum feedback and makes changes in business processes and communications within each of their respective functions.

Biggest surprise?
Within the community, you’ll find that some of your biggest critics turn out to be your best customer advocates for your brand, products, and services.

Biggest mistake?
Trying to grow the community too fast. If you spread the topics too far apart too quickly, you begin to lose critical mass.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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To contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com
Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationCRM.com/subscribe/.
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