Top Execs + CRM = Success
CRM is about changing the mindset of your employees to focus on customers. Companies can only do this if customer-centricity begins and is embraced at the C level.
Posted Oct 1, 2003
  

Customer relationship management is about business processes, access to information to make better decisions, bringing in new customers while retaining the old ones, increasing revenue, and decreasing inefficiencies. Most of all CRM is about changing the mindset of your employees to focus on customers. Companies can only do this if customer-centricity begins and is embraced at the C level.

The four top executives we present here operate different size companies in different industries with different requirements. What they have in common, however, is passion for CRM and the benefits it can bring to their respective businesses.

Chief Executive Officer: Jennifer Floren
Jennifer Floren credits CRM as a key factor in her company's expansion and success in the market.

Floren, CEO of Boston-based Experience Inc., founded the online college recruitment firm in 1996 after leaving management consultancy Bain & Co. What began as a one-woman operation is now a 52-person company that has had three rounds of venture capital funding and made three acquisitions over the past six years.

Experience Inc.'s market share has grown from 20 to 80 percent penetration in university career centers in the United States. Experience Inc. now works with more than 600 universities, more than 100,000 employers that do college recruiting, and 3 million students and alumni. Floren says implementing an Onyx CRM solution in 2000 was a key part of this success.

Floren had determined that highly personalized customer service was critical for long-term, sustainable competitive advantage. She wanted customers to feel like the company knew them, but knew that Experience Inc. couldn't afford to have one-to-one relationships. "So making sure any account manager can instantly know a history of our clients' issues when they call or email is key," she says.

Because customers turn to Experience for advice, Floren wanted an online customer portal where users can get up-to-the-minute information about issues and best practices, sign up for training sessions, find new features, or log bugs and feature requests.

Floren says that it was important to let everyone in her company know that forging deep relationships with customers was a driving force and strategic plan for the company both financially and organizationally. She gathered the staff to sell her plans to implement a CRM system, and then got feedback from workers about what they needed.

With Floren leading the CRM charge the company rolled out the solution, first to the sales team, then to customer service, and then to marketing. "This is absolutely meeting our goals," Floren says. "We wanted to be known as having the most friendly customer service, and I think we've done that."

The company also has other indications of success. Floren says surveys indicate that 95 percent of customers are satisfied and that the company has managed to retain 94 percent of its customers since 1996.

Chief Financial Officer: Mike LaRocco
Mike LaRocco may be the CFO for ISO Healthcare Consulting, but he's no bean counter.

LaRocco, who was instrumental in bringing in a CRM system 18 months ago, says he sees a huge value with CRM. He helped implement CRM not as a cost-cutting method, but as a way for employees to share information.

ISO is a strategic healthcare consulting practice and a division of Fortune 1,000 company Interpublic. Because ISO does its business on a project basis and has offices in London, New York, and Paris, LaRocco had specific requirements for its CRM initiative: help the company more accurately predict project-based revenue streams, let account managers share critical information, and offer a flexible, user-friendly CRM system for real-time visibility.

But most important, LaRocco did not want to deal with the expense and IT--support issues of a CRM software deployment. That led him and his small CRM--selection task force to choose an online solution. Once the decision was made to use an ASP, ISO selected Salesforce.com.

LaRocco uses the product heavily himself and so do the company's 12 account managers, both in the United States and internationally. He says the value and benefits of the system can be seen in better coordination of global sales efforts; better understanding and management of worldwide accounts; the ability to generate reliable forecasts and reports in real time; and improved ability to build on existing work for future projects.
Previously account representatives were managing projects in their own ways, whether it was in Excel or PowerPoint or another program, according to LaRocco.

"There was no system that tracked our marketing pipeline or opportunities. Information was very disjointed and it took a lot of manpower to pull together even the simplest information," LaRocco says. "I look at the Salesforce.com system and what it costs me, which is 75 percent less than a junior marketing assistant."

LaRocco says that the keys to the success of ISO's CRM initiative are having updated information at all times and helping people work smarter. He is also helping spread the good word of CRM. LaRocco, who used to work at Interpublic, has spoken there to see how it might profit from using CRM. "I'll talk to whoever might benefit from CRM," he says.

Chief Information Officer: John Ounjian
Healthcare provider Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (BCBSM) is running like a Cadillac, according to company CIO John Ounjian.

As head mechanic Ounjian credits CRM as the part of the engine that keeps the automobile running smoothly.
Although Ounjian is the CIO, he also has responsibility for claims operations for BCBSM, which is Minnesota's largest health plan, with 2.6 million members nationwide. More than one third of members are outside Minnesota, and include such large national accounts as 3M Corp., General Mills, and Target.

For Ounjian, who has worked in healthcare for eight years and spent more than 25 years in financial services, it's all about relationship management. "There are many market forces at play in the healthcare industry, and we are changing how we do our marketing and how we manage our customers' experience," Ounjian says.

In January 2002 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota completed the roll out of phase one of a KANA CRM solution to 700 of its 4,000 workers. The solution, which is primarily being used by customer service workers, is a combination of customer support applications and Web self-service. The company is also using telephony applications from Aspect and Vitria.

Currently the company has given more than one million of its members access to the new system, which includes the ability to find a doctor, view a provider directory, and check claim status online, according to Ounjian. "We have laid...a foundation for customer service, which allows us to bring in more automation and assisted services," he says.

The impetus for the change was not cost-cutting, but increasing customer loyalty and customer retention, along with growing the business. "The driver was coming from large national accounts." Ounjian says. "They were saying that if we wanted to do business with them, we needed to offer a richer service to their employees. This has been a critical strategy for us to attract new business."

The result was record enrollment in 2002. Ounjian says there was 10 percent overall growth, including many existing national accounts that expanded their business with BCBSM. In addition, the healthcare provider has improved its position on a customer satisfaction index that ranks healthcare providers.

Ounjian says one of the keys to the CRM system is its loosely coupled architecture, which means that the company can add components as necessary rather than all at once. "I was set on having a J2EE architecture that would not force us to digest the entire elephant in one sitting," he says.

He claims that every organization can benefit from CRM if it remembers some key points: Make sure you are delivering what the customer actually wants; use the vocabulary and context that the customer wants, not the jargon and organization of your business; keep the customer interested with new content and information; and don't force mega--CRM solutions.

Ounjian has spoken at many of Blue Cross's conferences to spread the word about his customer-driven healthcare ideas. He is humble about his accomplishments, and barely notes that other BCBSs are intrigued by the success in Minnesota and that many are attempting to replicate his CRM model.

Chief Marketing Officer: Sean McCarthy
Sean McCarthy, owner and founder of Elite Flooring, realized his company had become a commodity business and he needed something to stand out. That something was CRM.

The seven-year-old commercial flooring company had tried CRM twice before, with mixed results. McCarthy, who also oversees sales and marketing, believes in the concept of CRM, so he was determined that the third time would be the charm.

Elite's experience with CRM was like that of Goldilocks. The first system, from Siebel Systems, was much more CRM than the 40-person company needed. To temper the first move Elite's next attempt looked for a solution that was less complex. However, the systems integrator was preoccupied with acquisitions, then went into bankruptcy, and so was not able to meet the company's needs.

Finally McCarthy found something that was just right. At the start of 2002, after much more in-depth research, he made a decision to deploy Microsoft CRM. Currently Elite Flooring has six employees across different departments using the beta version of MS CRM. The official release of the product was in January.

Version 1 of the product will be rolled out to the rest of the staff over the next 24 months.

"This is going to be one piece at a time. I know that is very slow for a company of our size, but we are doing this in a way that will ensure success. We are giving it to superusers and the people who are most likely to succeed," McCarthy says. "First we are getting it out to the customer service folks, then sales, then we will be dealing with the data mining portion."

Not surprisingly, after two failed CRM attempts workers are skeptical about the new system. "We have met with only resistance," McCarthy says. "Everyone thinks this is the flavor of the day. But I no longer have rose-colored glasses on. We are doing things internally and talking about problems as they come up. I am confident that we are going in the right direction. I know we have made mistakes, but it's best to admit them and move on."

That means separating Elite Flooring from the competition. McCarthy believes that Elite needs to drive customer loyalty rather than "slugging it out in the pit for a penny here or a nickel there."

"We want to identify customers' individual needs and determine what it costs us to deal with particular customers," he says. "We also want consistency in our touch points, consolidation of information in one spot, and to use the system for efficiencies."

Contact Senior Editor Lisa Picarille at lpicarille@destinationCRM.com