• February 1, 2011
  • By Koa Beck, Editorial Assistant, CRM magazine

Information Overload

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For Unilever, which owns many of the world’s consumer brands in food, beverages, cleaning agents, and personal care products, the problem was organization.

With slightly more than 4 million consumer connections in 2010, across Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, Unilever’s volume of information posed challenges.

For example, though Dove, a popular Unilever brand, is a universal product, packaging varies in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., says Linnea Johnson, director of consumer relations. With three languages, changing country regulations, and the changing of brand managers, Unilever struggled to maintain the knowledge base of Dove, and 90 other brands.

“We had systems that just couldn’t keep up,” says Johnson. “[It was] very difficult to generate reports. [There were] time delays in identifying important trends. There is nothing worse than on Monday coming in and saying, ‘Gee, I wish I had heard about that on Friday.’ ”

Johnson describes the old process as “time- and labor-intensive. Intuitively, this should be simpler to do—engage with consumers.”
Johnson and her colleagues identified the impact the disorganization was having on customer satisfaction. Though Johnson and her team had a “very strong working relationship” with their quality assurance and research teams, she found herself asking, “What could we do for them to make their jobs easier?”

Unilever selected Astute Solutions to assist with a transition toward streamlining product information, adopting a “very carefully planned-out phased approach,” Johnson says.

“[Unilever] started with agents first—the agents are the face and the voice of the brand. If our agents aren’t able to work at their best, then really they can’t engage with consumers and bring those brands to life,” says Johnson.

Unilever sought to simplify the knowledge base in the hopes of empowering its agents with the right information. Unilever owned its knowledge base, which consisted of health information and ingredients—all of which must be kept up-to-date. Accessible by agents, this base had been “built” over many years in Folio with the help of 20 to 30 authors, says Johnson. With so many voices and writing styles, the knowledge base was made up of duplicate, and sometimes inconsistent, information.

The rudimentary search capabilities restricted all searches to “trees,” so getting out would result in backing out by “six clicks” with a customer on the phone.

“We demonstrated that it was not user-friendly…[the knowledge base was] costly in terms of the ability to have excellent information,” Johnson recalls.

The sheer amount of information was daunting. Johnson says, “When you change your knowledge base, [you] take a hard look at your content issues. We underestimated how much stuff was in Folio. Whether it was good or bad, it was just amazing how much was in there.”

One component Johnson loved about the Astute solution was the natural language screen, which responded to common misspellings.
“Some of our ingredients [for our products] I can barely pronounce, let alone spell,” says Johnson. “[Unilever’s knowledge base] needs to be flexible enough to put up with our inconsistencies.”

One click allowed for easy streamlined messages for agents, informing them of all the different actions and approved responses to customer inquiries. Graphics of labels were also accessible, along with Web links. The system “learned by use,” streamlining the “babysitting” typically required when training someone new.

Unilever also changed its telephony system, deciding on a single system for multiple contact centers with call controls embedded with ePowerCenter CRM applications. All calls are recorded and integrated into the system for use.

Regardless of training benefits, recording all calls “gets you away from that ‘he said/she said’ scenario,” Johnson says. From there, Unilever worked outward from the knowledge base of the agents to Web self-service to the CRM system to properly leveraging social media.

Johnson says, “Once we were live, we had amazing results. Within the first 60 days, calls to the internal help desk were reduced by 50 percent, [and we had a] shorter handle time. Not [having] to get up from your desk to find a bottle or box to look at saved an amazing amount of time.”

However, there were a couple of snags that Johnson did not foresee when it came to merging content across countries.

“We assumed U.S. and Canada content could be merged.… We should not have assumed that,” she says. With distinctive promotional issues, issues with  ingredients, and laws and regulations, this was not a possibility. 

Because the Folio system had been in place for years, reorganizing the knowledge base was also difficult for some Unilever employees.
“For about five years, [people] bent my ear telling me how much they hated Folio. Once we told them we were going forward with a change, they bent my other ear telling me how much they hated the change,” Johnson recalls.

For the next frontier, Unilever plans to delve more into social CRM.

Editorial Assistant Koa Beck can be reached at kbeck@destinationcrm.com.

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