The 2009 CRM Service Awards: Service Elite -- CBS Interactive: Playing the Games

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Remember March Madness? Many fans missed at least some of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. If only they’d known about CBS Interactive (CBSI), a unit of the CBS Corp. For the sixth year in a row, CBSI exclusively offered all 63 tournament games online, a slam dunk made possible by CBSI’s Emmy Award–winning video player March Madness On Demand (MMOD)—but, says Robert Monteiro, senior manager of product integration for CBSI’s online services, RightNow Technologies gets big credit for the assist.

CBSI is responsible for Web properties such as CBS.com, CBSNews.com, CBSSports.com, CWTV.com, and CNet (acquired in May 2008). Across all sites, Monteiro reports, CBSI resolved 96 percent of its customer service interactions online in 2008, up two percentage points over the previous year, and hit a 92 percent retention rate for its “premium paid products,” an increase of one and a half percentage points.

RightNow’s platform enables site-agnostic, real-time surveys and feedback, from which CBSI captures a complete view of its users. The sites can then deliver a more-relevant experience, whether a user is reading news or watching a game. The ability to capture customer insight has been “a huge contributor to the overall success of our product development,” Monteiro says, and will continue to be the impetus for “a stronger product for the future.”

In fact, CBSI just expanded to a second video format, one built on Microsoft’s Silverlight platform. To assure optimal customer service regardless of a viewer’s chosen format, CBSI relies on RightNow to facilitate both a Web self-service and a “one-touch” reporting mechanism that delivers real-time alerts for any site or video problems. “These are live events!” Monteiro exclaims, emphasizing precisely how critical a timely resolution really is.

After more than three years with an on-premises model, CBSI moved to on-demand in May 2008, a decision made for scalability and support in a rapidly growing enterprise, Monteiro says. For a company as large as CBSI, the shift was surprisingly smooth, he recalls, though what really mattered was that it was “virtually seamless to our customers.”

The benefits of on-demand soon became clear when per-transaction contact center costs—which, depending on the business unit, had ranged from $1.64 to more than six dollars—dropped to a mere six cents. “Six cents beats six dollars every day of the week,” Monteiro asserts, “as long as the level of service is not compromised.”

When first implementing RightNow, CBSI manned CBSSports.com with 33 full-time employees, plus 15 or 20 more during peak times. Service was limited to email and phone. Now, custom Web forms allow customers to submit questions, and answers are published in a public “Mail Center” for the benefit of all.

With its various acquisitions, CBSI has now become the Web’s eighth-most-popular destination. Despite the rapid growth, headcount has remained relatively flat since implementing RightNow. “We either needed to hire more people or invest in more technology,” says Bill Grubbs, vice president of customer service operations. “We decided to focus on the staff we had in place, but give them a sharper tool to help them serve millions.” The success led to plans for a rollout of RightNow’s multilingual, multichannel support to all 32 business units.

“Expansion of our product offerings,” Monteiro says, “was inevitable.” Still, by eliminating glitches, RightNow freed CBSI to address time-sensitive issues. “In our world, [service-level agreements] are referenced in minutes, not hours or days,” he says. “With our audience environment being both live and interactive, the preservation of the customer experience is paramount…. Instead of our product-development path being defined by conjecture, opinion, or educated guesswork, it’s being driven by the voice of the customer.”  —Jessica Tsai

KEY RESULTS: CBS Interactive
• Resolved 96 percent of its customer service interactions online in 2008, an increase of two percentage points
• Secured a 92 percent retention rate for its “premium paid products,” an increase of one and a half percentage points 
• Developed site-agnostic, real-time surveys and feedback
• Switched from on-premises to on-demand platform
• Dropped per-transaction costs in the contact center to a mere 6¢, from previous costs that ranged from $1.64 to more than $6
• Expanded features and functionality without additional personnel costs

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The other three recipients of the 2009 CRM Service Elite Award are:

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