November 05, 2004

Self-Service Payoff

How Self-Service can payoff for business.

The (other) big payoff from self-service
By Allen Bonde
04 Nov 2004

From online support and e-billing, to self-check kiosks like the ones we all see sprouting up in grocery stores and airport terminals, self-service has gone mainstream.

Within the enterprise, we see the same story. Self-service models are extending intranets and portals, and are being powered by advanced search, knowledge management and the slow but steady innovation by traditional ERP, CRM and call center providers, as we explored in my last two columns.


Organizations have long focused on enabling users to help themselves via technological intermediaries, from the Web, to ATMs, and way back to the mechanized vending machines that sold postcards in the 1880s. As I have often written, the rationale has been simple: enable greater reach and drive greater efficiency. Reach new customers where they are and where they prefer to be served. Enable them to reach the information, answers, or products they need, the first time.

Driving greater efficiency comes from streamlining access, offloading frequent transactions (e.g., paying your highway toll), and empowering users to find what they need – on their own. Of course, by pushing more to users, organizations can take agents, or sales people, or even toll collectors out of the loop. This is the classic argument for self-service: reduce the number and/or cost of calls or other interactions, and you can save money.

This economic argument is true in many cases, and often the foundation for glowing ROI projections. But call deflection and cheaper transactions are only part of the self-service story. The big payoff may be much larger – but also more difficult to achieve.

It's About the Customer, Stupid

Many self-service initiatives may be justified initially by calculating cost savings due to the "efficiency" effect. However, our view is that over time, a greater benefit often emerges: the power of insight – into user needs and behavior, product and campaign effectiveness, and even purchasing or service trends. By automating interactions and transactions and creating electronic breadcrumbs, the ability to monitor, capture and analyze is potentially limitless.

Of course privacy is always a consideration, yet as more self-service sessions involve known account holders such as bank customers, airline passengers or other "members," there is already a trusted relationship in place. With the growth of loyalty programs like frequent flyer programs, I also believe there has become an established user expectation that more information "in" often generates better information and service "out."

Tapping into this potential goldmine of insight requires the right tools – and processes to ensure users see as much (if not more) value from the equation as their favorite bank, airline or retailer. This means choosing and using a self-service platform with sufficient built-in analytics and reporting functionality. Some of this may come directly from a self-service or e-service vendor such as Kanisa, Primus, RightNow or Sento. Other vendors have partnered with specific customer analytics providers such as Coremetrics or Quadstone.

For more information

Read Allen Bonde's last column on Web self-service

Learn how to match search technology to your needs

Meanwhile, the traditional BI and enterprise reporting vendors have gotten into the act as well, with vendors such as Actuate making a major push to establish its platform and tools as key enablers for next-generation customer self-service applications.

Insight Drives Optimization

The adage "you can't manage what you can't measure" is especially applicable to self-service applications. With increased visibility and insight comes the opportunity to not only identify content holes or bottlenecks in online content and processes, but to also better understand, target and service various user segments.

The potential benefits can be significant. A leading wireless provider discovered that customers who preferred to receive customer service online were also generating nearly twice the average revenue per user—and a perfect target for special loyalty and online promotions.

A large consumer electronics retailer learned that by analyzing pre-order information gathered via Web self-service, it could accurately forecast demand for soon-to-be-released DVD movie titles and other new products, and determine how many to order for each store based on what looked to be a "hit."

For these reasons, when we help organizations pick the right self-service platform, we often put analytics and reporting capabilities near the top of the list. As companies continue to shift the focus of self-service initiatives from serving browsers and casual users to keeping their existing and best customers happy (like our wireless company discovered), we also see an expanding role for more "heavy duty" business intelligence and enterprise reporting tools as a way to not only deliver richer, more useful information to users, but also greater insight to planners, marketers and service staff.

Allen Bonde is the president of Allen Bonde Group, Inc. (ABG), a Boston-based management consulting and strategic advisory firm focused on CRM, business intelligence and Web self-service market trends and best practices. Contact Allen via email at: [email protected]

The (other) big payoff from self-service

Posted by Craig at 02:38 PM

October 11, 2004

CRM via Self-Service Kiosks

The vacation resort operator captures better customer information by using self-service kiosks.

by Coreen Bailor

Monday, October 11, 2004


Intrawest, an operator and developer of village-centered resorts, like most companies ran into hurdles when trying to garner data to identify who their patrons are. The company's customers are skiers and snowboarders covered with snow and dealing with freezing fingers--asking them to fill out paper-based forms slashed Intrawest's chances of learning how to become more inline with its customers.
"We wanted to identify people and essentially come up with a user-friendly way that's efficient to get people to provide data to us," says Randy Cuff, director of CRM development at Intrawest. "Visitors could be coming up for a day's skiing at Whistler, for example. They would buy their ski pass, ski all day, eat in one of our mountain top restaurants, buy a snack in the village, and go home. We wouldn't know that they had been to Whistler that day."

Essentially, Intrawest required a solution that would allow it to capture a vast amount of data, including contact and demographic information along with customer feedback, while not inconveniencing its customers. So the company deployed a solution from Techneos Systems, developers of tools for mobile computer assisted data collection with Entryware software, in conjunction with AlphaSmart's Dana units. The resulting solution is mobile self-service kiosks that could be placed at appropriate, convenient locations to handle traffic flow of customers.

According to Mark Cameron, president of Techneos Systems, working with Intrawest's needs posed a challenge for developing a solution. "Given the public would be wearing ski boots and wet gloves, we had to create a kiosk that was durable, portable, easy to use, and secure." Techneos suggested AlphaSmart Dana units, which run about 25 hours on a single charge and are built to withstand heavy usage.

"[Techneos and AlphaSmart] really help us to get the data from the people directly, without even having to stop and ship out paper forms to get data keyed. The data comes off the Dana units onto a desktop computer into some form of file... and then from there, we can import it into our data mart," Cuff says.

The implementation is fairly new, according to Cuff, and was piloted for about three months last January. But according to Sean Ballard, research and revenue management supervisor at Intrawest's Blue Mountain, the company is already seeing results: "With the paper-based system we managed to collect about 150 contacts per month. In the two months we had the two kiosks on location, we increased the contacts collected ten-fold. We gained an amazing 2,200 useable contacts in February and March 2004."

By shredding the need to use paper-based forms Intrawest can now get data faster and more accurately. "People are intrigued by it," Cuff says. "It draws people to it."

Posted by Craig at 08:32 PM

March 09, 2004

ROI Approach

...A slightly different approach to ROI was presented by Peppers & Rogers Group principal, Tom Spitale....

Customer Strategy Metrics Take Front and Center

Measuring the results of customer strategy initiatives was one of the overriding themes of last month's Smart CRM East conference in Atlanta. From keynoter Don Peppers to privacy expert Larry Ponemon to individual panelists such as Carlson Marketing Group VP Audie Dunham, all discussed new pressures to prove return on investment and other metrics in order to keep CRM thriving.

However, the conference also brought to light some conflict among those metrics. The oft-quoted Gartner statistic of a 70% failure rate for CRM initiatives was debunked by Peppers who maintained that a focus on customer equity – the rate of return measured on each current and future customer – could provide a different perspective for management as well as a new approach to the overall customer strategy. A straight measurement of ROI for a CRM initiative is not as relevant as this focus on customer equity, according to Peppers' presentation.

A slightly different approach to ROI was presented by Peppers & Rogers Group principal, Tom Spitale. Spitale, who directs Peppers & Rogers Group's ROI practice, pointed to a recent study that reveals more than 70% of CRM projects succeed. According to Spitale, the biggest key to success is a comprehensive, specific CRM strategy. Too many efforts, he said, are doomed from the beginning by a lack of strategic coherence. Therefore, the efforts that do not meet expectations are "self-inflicted" failures.

Other key success factors to achieving ROI success are line-level training, organizational/executive support, setting measurable goals (measurement discipline) and a willingness to maintain commitment to the program. "You will see no gain" without the "pain," Spitale said. "But that's what will make successful CRM. In our experience, without the metrics, many abandon ship due to the pain."

Metrics were also a focus of one of the main case studies presented at the conference. Continental Airlines reservations and contact center director Andre Harris discussed how the airline's contact center, which seats more than 4,600 people and handles 60 million calls annually, "didn't listen to customers because all they were doing was complaining." So, in 1990, under Harris' leadership, the center instituted a "Go Forward plan" that set out to measure the performance of each agent and the metrics of the system as it related to customer satisfaction.

Harris' team learned several things before the implementation effort even commenced. Continental conducted a customer survey to determine what their flyers did and did not value in contact center interactions. Among the findings: customers didn't care whether an agent thanked them for calling Continental, and they didn't like that all calls were strictly scripted. So the new program honored individual styles by promoting best practices among "super agents," those who closed the most sales and reduced the amount of calls that needed to be referred to supervisors.

"You have to understand their needs, give them accurate information, and answer promptly," said Harris. The results speak for themselves: Continental's program has yielded a 1.2% attrition rate over the past two years among contact center agents, a 17% increase in bookings during 2003, an increased proportion of e-ticketing, and an internally measured jump of 10% in average agent quality scores.

Customer Strategy Metrics Take Front and Center

Posted by Craig at 02:16 PM

January 11, 2004

Is CRM Innovation Dead?

large CRM vendors converging on common set of CRM-application functions. These are, primarily, sales automation, customer-service automation and marketing automation. Within each of these areas, most vendors now offer at least basic functionality -- for example, opportunity management for sales, problem management for customer service, and campaign management for marketing. full story

Posted by Craig at 02:51 PM