A CRM Front End

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2002-06-17 Print this article Print

This once-struggling credit union is using software not just to pull together information on accounts, but to offer new services to customers as well.

A CRM Front End

In 1999, Meriwest settled on an approach of making software from Siebel Systems the customer relationship management front end that would not only unify the information about various account balances but also put it in context. The goal was to let credit union personnel see which customers had college age children and which were approaching retirement, then help make the connection to services matching those needs. Dave Puett, vice president of eMarketing Solutions, says the selection committee he led picked Siebel not just on the basis of its name brand prominence but because it offered an industry-specific version of its software, Siebel eFinance, in contrast with other products that would have required more customization.

"We wanted to start off with some set of functions that corresponded to what the best practices would be—we felt that would definitely be a leg up," he says.

Inforte, an integrator recommended by Siebel, helped Meriwest with the core CRM implementation and later added a personalized Web site based on Vignette's content management system that also presents sales offers generated by Siebel. Meriwest steers customers to the MyMeriwest site that it hosts itself for product information and service questions, but continues to link to the outsourced service from Corillian, which handles transactions such as account transfers.

John Kariotis, the project manager from Inforte, says the job was made easier by the amount of preparation Meriwest officials had done to understand the technology. However, he says he had to emphasize the importance of taking things a step at a time. "They had some fairly high expectations of what the Web could do," he says, noting that the project got under way at the peak of the dot-com boom. "We said first of all, let's get a single environment where we can pull together data from 11 different systems and try to gather all this information into a common view of the customer. Then once we have these key pieces of information, we can go and try to proactively provide them with newer or better services. So if we see somebody has a high balance, we can offer them a CD."

After implementing Siebel eFinance in 2000, Inforte followed up with the Vignette implementation in 2001. Meriwest and Inforte have added further telephony integration with Siebel and are currently working on voice recognition.

The project's biggest technical challenge was that Siebel had to be linked with Symitar, rather than one of the more commonplace financial systems for which Siebel provides pre-packaged connectors, Kariotis says. When Inforte approached Symitar about its desire to create a Siebel integration, the initial response was "good luck," he says. Symitar provided a general-purpose application programming interface—and eventually offered a little more support—so this wasn't really a showstopper, he says. "It just took time and resources."

Another challenge was adapting the original development work done on Siebel 99 to Siebel 2000, the platform that was chosen for deployment and which had a significantly different technical architecture, Kariotis says.

The payoff has shown up in a couple of key metrics Meriwest targeted. At the end of last year, deposits per customer were up 27% over the 1998 level, with a goal of 50% by the end of this year, and loans per customer were up 46%, with a year-end goal of 60%. Of course, the new technology can't claim all the credit—at the same time that the Siebel and Vignette implementations were under way, Meriwest was stepping up its advertising and investing in service representative training, all of which was aimed at projecting and delivering a more customer-centric approach.

But customer-satisfaction survey results show that Meriwest has continued to narrow the gap between customer expectations and the service they receive, and those scores improved at more than double the rate in the years when the CRM improvements were being introduced than they did in the previous two years. Also, as a direct result of the Siebel implementation, Meriwest has been able to reduce "call-wrap time"—a measure of how long it takes a service representative to complete a customer conversation and document the call—from about 5 minutes, 20 seconds in 2000, to 1 minute, 20 seconds in the first quarter of 2002. This is allowing Meriwest to cut customer hold times and increase the amount of time service representatives spend on outbound sales calls.

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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