Closing the Gap

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Brother International Corp. kicked off the new millennium trying to resolve a customer satisfaction problem. The issue wasn't the dreaded Y2K bug, but rather why the company was experiencing so many returns. A quick analysis showed that the returns were across all product lines, which included printers, multifunction printers, copiers, scanners, and other printing devices. The problem wasn't with a change in the quality of the products, but with Brother's call centers. Users of Brother's products were attempting to contact the call centers and getting busy signals, or simply never getting a live human to answer the phone. "Our first response was to throw more people at the problem and answer the calls" says Dennis Upton, CIO for the Bridgewater, NJ, arm of the Japanese manufacturer. "And while that did reduce the number of returns, we know there were other issues that needed to be solved." So in January of 2001 Brother kicked off a CRM campaign. Using SAP's mySAP CRM, Brother took action to unify all its U.S. call centers, which have a total of 200 agents in a handful of states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Tennessee. "They were all using different methods and requirements to collect customer data," Upton says. "The only common denominator was that every record had a name and address. There was no way we could make sense of any of the data." Adding to the distance between Brother and users of the company's products is its distribution channel. Brother sells only to large office supply stores and retail outlets, so the company has no end-user contact until consumers call for service or support, or send in a registration card. Brother was also looking to create a knowledge base of answers so there would be a consistency of response across the entire company. Upton says that prior to putting in the new system agents with three years of experience at the company might have a very different answer to the same service issue than a representative with just three months experience. He also estimates that having a repository of responses saves 40 seconds per call. In addition to reducing training for agents, the system also enables agents to capture customer information just once, and to have the customer's entire history of every interaction with the company. "We've received a lot of good comments about our ability to show one face to the customer," Upton says. "We are really trying to put into the customers' mind that we know who they are, what issues and problems they have, and that we want to make sure they were satisfied." And not only are customers more satisfied--returns have decreased--but officials at Brother are happier as well. Upton estimates that for every 1,000 calls the company handles it is able to save more than five returns. Upton says that not having to collect demographic data every time a customer calls again saves, on average, 30 seconds per call. Brother receives an average of 2 million service and support calls per year, which translates to a reduction of 1 million minutes--a hefty cost-savings for the company. Overall, the company expects to save annually more than $1.6 million. However, Upton says that it's not savings he's excited about, but the idea of how many more calls can the company handle with the same amount of people. Upton says the company initially anticipated a 129 percent return on investment in the first 20 to 24 months, but that the ROI is likely to happen faster than that. "This didn't happen without a lot of work," Upton says. "It's a wonderful example of the IT and business folks working together to achieve a goal. It's not perfect and we continue to make improvements, but it's a joint effort and one that has gone really well."
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