Brewer taps into customer service model

Australian brewer Carlton & United Breweries opted for one vendor over multiple vendors for its CRM solution to overcome customer service problems and an 'arrogant' attitude.

Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) services its 20,000-customer base of wholesalers, through its sales branches across the country, each of which functioned as a customer service centre. The result was 16 call centres nationally that did not talk to each other and were not linked in any way to each other.

CUB had no understanding of how calls were handled, the call abandonment rate or how customers were being serviced.

Jennifer Speed, national manager, channel customer support, CUB, said, "It could be perceived by our customers that we had what they could call an arrogant attitude to them in the past."

However, some two years ago the brewer realised that a key market differentiator in the market was going to be premier customer service and decided to invest in its CRM initiative.

Speed said, "We wanted to have a system that would give a single view of our customers so that the rep on the road gets the same information as the customer service person on the phone. We realised customer service was critical to our business."

After evaluating many players and CRM technologies, CUB decided to prepare an RFP (request for proposal) and stick to one CRM vendor that could subcontract to any other players in the marketplace and put together the solution package that it required.

Chris Fischer, information technology service sales account manager, explained the decision to stick to one vendor. "Even after we got all the disparate parties to sign agreements to work together, blame shifting would invariably occur if something went wrong down the track."

The RFP covered areas such as technology, service, site references and technology partners.

"A lot of people said it was the most comprehensive, most probing RFP to do with establishing a greenfield site they had experienced. Most of the vendors we sent the RFP to dropped straight out," Fischer said.

The site needed a robust and scalable system with a telephony platform that combines telephone calls, e-mail, fax and Web contact into a common queue of customer interaction, integrates all eCRM resources and provides real-time information to agent desktops. The system also now includes call line identification, which recognises the caller and brings up historical information.

CUB also integrated its service with Internet ordering to provide total service.

The brewer chose Aspect Communications whose response, Fischer said, "blew us away".

The CRM system started to roll out in August 1999 with many of the elements added in since then. Aspect's CRM solutions included technology that could handle the complex routing and customer management challenges particular to CUB's disparate call centres. According to Fischer, Aspect demonstrated a capacity to move beyond the switching environment.

CUB opened a brand new call centre in August 1999 with new staff starting on the same day. The main teething problems CUB encountered with Aspect's CRM solution was in ensuring its staff fully understood the system's capabilities, which was the logic behind the staggered roll-out process. Staff were trained on the features gradually. Speed said, "crawling was important".

The technology presents real-time eCRM information to agent and manager desktops, integrates all critical eCRM resources and presents call line identification, which CUB regards as a key benefit.

But the benefits are already being seen. "Previously we operated the call centre 9am till 5pm Monday to Friday, but most of our customers are pubs, clubs and sporting venues that operate in the evening and on weekends," Speed said. Now the call centre has extended its hours of service to 7pm till 10pm, 7 days a week and also has a paging service for reps in cases of emergency.

Speed said cost cutting was not the motive for CRM implementation and it has not significantly altered operational costs.

Yet CUB believes using elements of the technology to its best advantage will add value to the customer and therefore to the business. CUB also expects the technology to provide the leverage to generate a long-term e-commerce solution.

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