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Cleaning up the Mess

By Lawrence Walsh  |  Posted 2008-03-31 Print this article Print

The software Vendor's Project oasis, code name for a massive ERP overhaul, nearly crippled its ordering system. Refocusing on the user experience and connecting with a hidden class of customers salvaged the company's business. 

Cleaning Up the Mess

Jeff Russakow stepped into the fray at the height of the crisis, taking over the Global Enterprise Support Services division in April 2007. While CIO Thompson worked on resolving technical kinks and refining the user experience, and Parrish soothed irritated partners, Russakow raced to get customers off the phones and smooth out the ordering process.

The mess was more than Russakow could imagine. Partner and customer hold times for support skyrocketed from an average of 2 minutes prior to Project Oasis to an average of 25 minutes. Once a customer got a human on the phone, they could spend up to 20 minutes working through the new process. While Symantec did increase call center capacity prior to the launch of Project Oasis, it vastly underestimated the volume of problems users would encounter.

Russakow rushed 170 “customer care” representatives through training and into the call center to increase capacity. The arrival of the cavalry reduced wait times to more tolerable levels. The nature of the calls and the troubleshooting his teams were doing provided valuable intelligence to the steering committee that was working to resolve the ERP issues. It was through the call center that Symantec discovered the folly of its system design. One of the biggest problems was dirty data.

Symantec had designed the system to show customers their existing licenses. What project planners hadn’t accounted for was that one company could have multiple accounts, because branch offices and divisions often bought licenses separately from the central office, and many companies had multiple accounts with variations of their corporate names. This created conflicts and incomplete data sets in the reporting system, which exacerbated the confusion.

Symantec partners and customers say the company’s customer service responsiveness has improved tremendously in the wake of Project Oasis. One of the key lessons Symantec learned from the debacle was that service still matters, especially to customers and constituents that rely on a large IT vendors for expertise and support.

“More and more, service is a differentiator, especially in the midmarket and among SMBs [small and medium businesses] that have a small IT department,” Russakow says. “They’re looking at the level of service to differentiate who to buy from. It’s all about doing more for the customer rather than differentiating on the product.”

*Some companies choose to stay away from ERP systems altogether. Take  Fortune 500 Wesco International with $5.3 billion in revenues.

Eliminating confusion and improving the product ordering process wasn’t enough. Symantec realized that it needed to recapture the hearts and minds of its customers and partners. Project Nero, the follow-up to Oasis, established several strategic objectives to improve everything from Symantec’s change-management processes to continuously measuring customer loyalty.

Project Nero’s starting point was damage control. Symantec’s executive team launched a concerted campaign to personally reach as many partners and customers as it could to assure them of the company’s commitment to ensuring their satisfaction and earning their loyalty. For months, CEO John Thompson, CIO David Thompson, Chief Operating Officer Enrique Salem and Vice President Julie Parrish—along with other executives—crisscrossed the country and spent countless hours talking to customers and partners about their experiences with Symantec.

Each meeting and phone call generated feedback and action items for the technical and customer service teams. The intelligence collected helped Symantec craft a new corporate-wide strategy for interdivision communications and coordinated product launches. With each step of improvement, Symantec measured the effect on customer loyalty.

“There’s always a lot of learning,” says Salem, who joined Symantec after its acquisition of his company, Brightmail, in 2004. “There were many things we fixed. What you’ve got to get good at is making sure that you focus on improving the experience for everyone involved—the customers and the partners.”

Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.
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