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Dow Chemical of Midland, Mich., wants what we all want: to make more money, save more money, and do so more easily and cheaply than before. To get there the company is expecting great things out of a mere 6 percent of its workforce--the 3,000 men and women who interact with Dow's customer base under the guidance of its new Customer Interface Initiative (CII) program. The effort is led by Mack Murrell, global director of customer interface, whose program "to make Dow the easiest company to do business with" is now in its third year. "We've taken the order-management process and basically said that we're not going to treat it as a soft process, but approach it like a chemical plant that's completely automated and very process driven," Murrell says. The goal is to model the entire customer interface process, identify points of failure, then reduce them 90 percent through the CII plan. "We've done a model of that [process] the same way we would when we build a new plant, ran a simulation, and can predict with a fair degree of authority what's going to get better." By improving the responsiveness and flexibility of centralized telephone support centers, Dow has been able to take 40 scientists off its support roster and return them to research and development. Murrell's plan examines the known attitudes of Dow customers on eight metrics, including fulfillment accuracy, perceived flexibility, and accessibility, then makes improvements by reallocating customer-facing resources, and improving channels of communication while cutting costs. The CII program required Dow to get a firm handle on customer data, creating a unified customer database that employees could access from a common desktop platform of SAP AG, Siebel Systems Inc., and intranet tools. At the same time, to improve anytime/anywhere ordering capabilities, the Web site and MyAccount@Dow e-commerce interface have been expanded and marketed to customers. While currently representing about $140 million in revenues, most of which has come from existing business, Murrell sees it as a springboard for incremental sales and cost reduction. Given that Dow can incur charges of more than $100 for some telephone-based inquiries (because many inquiries must be handled by Ph.D.-level engineers), cost is a significant motivator for the company. One of Dow's major CRM goals is to increase wallet share from its customers. But the slow-growth reality of the chemical industry means that Dow will be bringing in outside businesses to reach its goal of becoming a $60 billion company. Murrell expects that CII will be repeated in these new businesses. CII means more to Dow than simply moving order processing to the Web. Jens Garby, global director of customer interface for Dow's Engineering Plastics (EP) business in Switzerland, oversees the CII reengineering in his business unit. The unified database has allowed EP to decentralize many of its customer relationships, resulting in faster resolution times. "If a customer urgently needed some product information, in the past he phoned his technical contact at Dow, who could be travelling, or on the phone," Garby says. "Today he can find the data on our [Web site] and download literature in seconds, or phone our technical call center" and eliminate the wait. With 85 percent of his CII budget already spent, Murrell says he is ahead of schedule for meeting his basic ROI metric, which is to annually save the company the entire up-front CII investment. The key to success, he says, is to embrace organizational change. "We took every customer-facing process and we reengineered it to make it more customer-centric," he says. "If you just go out and try to implement some technology without truly changing how you're organized and how your people do their work, chances are you're going to fail."
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