CRM at Supercomm
Customer relationship management was one of the many issues highlighted at Supercomm 2000 in June in Atlanta.
For the rest of the September 2000 issue of CRM magazine please click here

As e-commerce grows rapidly, companies are moving to lifestyle management to attract and retain customers, but telecommunications companies have yet to reach that level, said Randall McComas, vice president and general manager for Saratoga, Calif.-based Scient.

"We are in the middle of the largest change we've ever seen, but some businesses are not seeing it at all," McComas said. "E-commerce is creating a massive change in the go-to-market model."

However, most telecommunications companies are still following a product-focused strategy.

"Companies are still operating on the model: 'If we build it, they will come,' " McComas said. "But customers want a services-based model. Customers are becoming more powerful. Customers include your suppliers and partners."

But telecommunications companies are still using Web sites that McComas considers second- or third-generation, rather than the current state-of-the-art e-commerce sites that offer lifestyle-management capabilities.

First-generation sites are simply billboards or electronic brochures. Second-generation sites are basically electronic catalogs, enabling customers to order and pay for products and services.

According to McComas, portals, the third generation, aren't any better.

"Portals are basically holes in the Web you throw money into," McComas said. "They basically connect a lot of crappy Web sites on the back end."

Customers don't want self-service portals. Instead, they want someone to solve their problems. That's where lifestyle management comes in.

To provide the services customers want and to retain them for the long-term, telecommunications companies need to follow the trend of AOL, staples and other companies that are building lifestyle-management capabilities into their Web sites, McComas said. These companies are providing customers with electronic calendars that help customers manage their schedules. Those calendar systems can be used to help populate a product management system.

"If you provide the customers with an outstanding system, they won't leave," McComas said.

CRM in Telephony Technology

CRM is also a critical element of the underlying technology infrastructure for telecommunications companies, according to different experts.

"With every service provider that we talk to, [operations system software] is a critical part of their strategy," said Steven Bamberger, director of marketing for Cygent, based in San Francisco, Calif. "OSS is a critical part of the way they are servicing customers."

"The key to being an industry winner is OSS," said Elizabeth K. Adams, president and CEO of the TeleManagement Forum. "In our environment, our product is becoming the service."

Customers are looking for the service itself, company responsiveness, billing processes and customer service. The company that can't deliver all of these elements will risk losing its customers.

For example, Adams was with a telecommunications carrier for 10 years, but then the company cut off her service for alleged nonpayment of a bill without so much as a phone call--even though there had never been a problem with a payment before. So, even though all of the other elements above were being met, Adams switched carriers.

"There's a need for speed in providing service anytime, anywhere," Adams said. "Companies need to offer flawless customer service, instant service introduction, seamless selling and connection to the supply chain." That isn't happening yet.

"The wholesale/retail model is a mess," Bamberger said. "Communications is ahead of only government and healthcare in its e-business adoption." Bamberger said telecommunications companies should look at the way Cisco and Dell, among others, are provisioning customers. Those companies manage customer relationships largely through the Internet. In the future, telecommunications companies will need to follow that example.

"The need for service value has big implications for OSS operations, which are changing rapidly," Adams said. "Companies must be able to operate at Internet speed."

Companies must also be able to offer billing systems that enable customers to pay one bill even if the products and services are coming from multiple networks and suppliers, Bamberger said. Billing information is gold, according to Kim Charles, marketing director for Menlo Park, Calif.-based Informix Software. "Now is the time to marry billing with sales and marketing via a data mart/data warehouse," Charles said.

Analysis of this information can help telecommunications companies improve their businesses by finding trends and patterns quickly so they can be acted upon for competitive advantage to retain and grow the most valuable customers. "This will allow companies to discover and act on important business intelligence in real time by compressing the amount of time it takes to acquire and use information," Charles said.

It will also help improve business processes by closing the loop between business intelligence systems (analytical applications) and operational systems. So companies can analyze not only their current operations, but also the potential effects of business changes such as price increases and product bundling.

"You can find new customers and achieve greater customer share," Charles said. "You can re-market to frequent buyers. Re-marketing to your target market helps you retain customers, increase revenue and close the loop between advertising and sales."

Companies can also use this information to justify marketing dollars as an investment, rather than just as sunk costs, Charles said. But Charles cautioned that integrating the front-end, back-end, Web and call center systems to achieve those benefits could be very difficult.

CRM Products

Informix itself was using the show to display some of its newest CRM/data warehousing systems:

� i.Sell, an end-to-end e-commerce product that integrates Informix's database and application server technology with an
e-commerce application suite, tools, enterprise consulting and global services.

� Media360, which provides end-to-end media asset management by making corporate content available online and easily accessible.

� Cloudscape, a complete, Java object-relational database management system for e-business applications, mobile applications and Java applications that require an embedded database, that enables developers to build applications that work as part of a corporate network environment or independently when disconnected from the network. The product also provides a platform-independent environment that supports extensible data types and Java methods in the server.

� Visionary, a visual, personalized, browser-like interface for the corporate decision-maker, designed to analyze corporate data from many different sources, including legacy and competitive databases.

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