The Suite Life Cements Customer Service

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Back in 2004, Ven Bontha was stuck, and it wasn’t because he worked for the second-largest cement and concrete maker in the United States.

As CRM director for Cemex, Bontha faced several problems. His customers were frustrated, but it wasn’t Cemex’s products that were testing their patience. After conducting in-depth interviews with about 350 customers, on-time delivery and difficulty accessing financial documents, service tickets, and other important pieces of paperwork were among the main complaints.

“We were dealing with our customers in a myriad of different ways,” Bontha recalls. “We didn’t have any view of what was happening with our customer service delivery because we didn’t have any metrics and we didn’t have any visibility.”

To get something “immediate under the company’s belt,” Bontha chose Salesforce.com and LeanLogistics to revamp Cemex’s customer service operation. It wouldn’t be until 2008, after having acquired SAP customer Rinker Materials, that Cemex would make the switch.

“Integration of Salesforce and LeanLogistics was expensive to maintain,” Bontha says. “The SAP CRM tool fit in with what we were doing. With the model that we had before, the master data was coming from so many different systems and processes that it was not so easy to serve the customer. SAP CRM was going to provide us with the single 360 degree view that we have today with all of the interactions.”

The cement giant has not looked back since implementation was completed in 2010. “I think it was a very fast implementation,” says Bontha. “We really focused on blueprinting. What we were trying to find out was can SAP do this and can it do it better?”

Apparently, it did. According to Bontha, inbound and outbound call volumes have risen each year, with a 30 percent jump in delivered products from 2009 to 2010, a statistic he attributes to both the software and Cemex’s seamless implementation. To ensure a smooth transition, Bontha traveled to and lived in each region during every implementation. He also established a day-in-the-life-of-a-customer program so that he could understand his clients’ interactions with Cemex employees, as well as with the competition. “The software doesn’t give you the competitive edge; it’s how you use it,” he says.

Vinay Iyer, vice president of global marketing for SAP CRM, says Cemex’s seemingly fast implementation is a common occurrence for new customers. With SAP’s updated software, the first phase takes six to eight weeks.

“One of the legacies SAP is fighting is a perception that we are complex and it takes too much time to implement,” Iyer says. “That used to be the case 10 years ago, but now SAP is a different company. Our products are more agile and easily implemented. We are a new SAP, and not your father’s or mother’s SAP.”

By realizing SAP’s improvements in recent years, along with its business suite approach to CRM, customers will be “leaps and bounds” above others in the marketplace, Iyer says. “We are able to deliver more value than any other vendor can do at this point in time, and that is an exciting opportunity for us to capture in the market,” he adds.

Bontha commends his team’s initial “enthusiastic and excited” reaction to the transition. The main concern was maintaining the personalized communication between agents and customers under a centralized system. But Bontha now says Cemex has preserved those key relationships. With telephone identification systems and skills-based routing, customers have a greater chance of connecting with the same agent every time they call. Bilingual agents also are employed in call centers to accommodate Cemex’s Spanish-speaking customers.

Bontha plans to remain with SAP and is exploring Cemex’s future with the product. Creating a sales application and determining how the company could leverage social media to improve customer experience top his to-do list.

“That will probably take over the next five years of my life,” he jokes. “Everyone can make cement, but it’s the service that sets you apart. If you lose focus on that, customers go to other companies.”

Associate Editor/Web Editor Brittany Farb can be reached at bfarb@destinationcrm.com.

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