Delano's E-CRM Enhances Service

SAN MATEO (04/24/2000) - As dot-com ventures continue to flood the marketplace, the fight for customers has reached a fever pitch. Driving customers to your e-commerce site has become a complicated and costly proposal, so maintaining an effective relationship to keep them once they arrive is now more important than ever.

Canada-based Delano Technology Corp. offers a means to that end with its e-marketing and electronic CRM (customer relationship management) service suite, Customer Velocity 1.0. This feature-rich suite of applications for large and midsize businesses integrates automated response messaging with an existing e-mail and Web infrastructure to improve CRM and foster new business.

Customer Velocity boasts notable features -- including rapidly deployed e-mail marketing campaigns, rule-based event-triggered communications, self-service customer Web portals, and a trouble-ticket tracking and management system -- that improve your company's ability to respond to customers and business partners.

This solution's immediate return on investment comes by way of faster and more consistent processing of Web-and phone-based service calls. Automated responses and self-service knowledge bases further reduce call frequency, providing subsequent savings through decreased staffing requirements, even as your customer base swells.

In addition, Customer Velocity helps improve your company's bottom line by mining for new Web business, quickly generating personalized marketing campaigns to deliver targeted shopping incentives. Immediate reporting feedback delivers insight into campaign effectiveness, allowing for immediate fine-tuning to improve success rates.

Out of the box, Customer Velocity presents a more comprehensive solution than do others in this market, including MessageMedia UnityMail and ServiceSoft E-mailContact. And although it lacks Talisma Enterprise Edition's chat facilities, Customer Velocity has an easily deployable Web portal, better extensibility, and a potential cost savings over Talisma's separately purchased modules and per-seat pricing.

Customer Velocity delivers an excellent mechanism to reduce customer service costs while allowing you to identify and court new customers, manage existing relationships, and improve customer satisfaction through quick, consistent responses.

An extensible architecture

Built on Delano's flagship e-Business Integration Suite 2.0, Customer Velocity packs in a scalable application server; a development toolkit with flexible integration for datastores; security, including support for LDAP, POP3, and IMAP4 (Internet Messaging Access Protocol 4); and an administrative toolkit to monitor and maintain the environment.

Using Microsoft Data Access Component architecture, COM/ DCOM, Microsoft's Internet Information Server API, and CGI Web extensions, this solution enables Delano applications for the Web. They can then be further extended using C++, Java, and Visual Basic to meet almost any enterprise challenge.

The resulting event-driven application environment enhances your Web site with added functionality, including the capability of up-or cross-selling products and sending discount coupons with an apology.

To fulfill the majority of its tasks, Customer Velocity relies on a well-appointed infrastructure. It calls for a 500MHz Pentium III with 512MB of RAM as the minimum server configuration, existing e-mail and Web servers, and either Microsoft SQL Server 7 or Oracle8 for an internal datastore.

Building a customer community

In addition, Customer Velocity offers a set of tools that are focused on improving customer relationships. For instance, I was able to easily integrate a self-service knowledge base, a newsletter management facility, and customer feedback forms into my test Web site.

Additionally, I was able to build a customer database that was replete with data-rich marketing profiles, which could be searched and segmented into finely-tuned subgroups. These subgroups could help you improve targeting of prospective future offers, for example. In addition to harvesting data online, information can be imported from external sources as well.

In my tests, building marketing campaigns and personalized e-mail messages was a snap. The interface, made up of point-and-click selections and prefilled fields, makes working with this e-CRM solution easy even for nontechnical staff, such as marketing and public relations personnel, who will require only minimal training to become productive.

Also, the interface offers quick page previews and administrative control over the launch and end dates of marketing campaigns. I also found that SQL query development is a breeze. Using the SQL builder, I easily developed the rules that shaped the interactions of my marketing campaign.

Marketing collateral, such as Web surveys or newsletters, can be imported or built from scratch and maintained in the internal library for easy access. This capability affords all levels of marketing and public relations personnel a unified repository of consistent materials that they can reuse in future marketing campaigns.

Strong campaign skills

I set up and launched a hypothetical e-mail campaign designed to solicit traffic to my Web site. I was able to maintain tight control over the entire campaign, including time frames, the target audience, and rules that triggered customized responses for any eventuality that arose during my campaign.

After I launched my marketing campaign, Customer Velocity waited, actively monitoring incoming communications and routing them based on my predefined rules. Triggers can come from a variety of sources, including direct links from the Web site, and I was able to use them to fire off new events, each of which could contain a new set of rules, triggers, and conditions.

By setting time limits, I was even able to trigger follow-up correspondence if the customer didn't respond or visit my Web site within a predetermined time frame.

The results of my marketing campaign were tracked and auto-tabulated. With Customer Velocity's flexible reporting options, I could customize views to show any culled statistical grouping, including general response rates, feedback to polls, or specific click-through rates to a target URL. This e-CRM solution supports several reporting formats, including HTML, Crystal Reports, and Microsoft Word and Excel, providing added flexibility.

Trouble-ticket routing

Customer Velocity further extends response management with a help desk trouble-ticket routing system. Trouble tickets, whether originating from your Web site or telephone call center, can be logged into the same system and routed to the appropriate department for action. The threaded history views provide all of your service representatives heads-up access to a ticket's status. Also, good reporting options supply the management staff with real-time assessment of the efficiency of response center operations.

This solution's other handy features, including ticket splitting for distributed processing of a single ticket and ticket prioritization, will further improve your customer service department's overall responsiveness to customers.

With Customer Velocity, you can also extend the availability of self-service resources to your customers and partners via the built-in Web portal application.

The portal's Web pages can be personalized by customer profile and used to target members-only offers, allow access to knowledge bases or newsletters, and provide customers with the autonomy to check the status of their trouble tickets.

You can customize the look and feel of the Web pages to keep in step with corporate guidelines, as well as with in-house applications to further extend the product's benefits.

Delano also offers good platform add-ons that extend enterprise integration and back-end connectivity, including legacy and ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems.

For its solid extensibility, an unsurpassed ease of use, rapid deployment capabilities, and comprehensive administrative tools, Customer Velocity should be a top contender for businesses looking to improve their e-CRM aptitude.

Although this solution requires a steep initial investment -- it starts at $300,000 -- immediate and long-term benefits will be realized through reduced staffing needs, an improved quality of service that will keep customers coming back, and solid extensibility into the enterprise that will ensure Customer Velocity's capability of meeting future business needs.

James R. Borck (james.borck@industrialart.com) appears frequently in InfoWorld and is director of IS at Industrial Art & Science in Connecticut.

For more on e-CRM solutions, see the following recent articles.

Test Center Analysis: "Customer service meets the Web," April 3, page 89Review: "Powerful Talisma Enterprise Edition raises the eCRM bar," April 3, page 92THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENTDelano Customer Velocity 1.0Business Case: This e-CRM solution's event-triggered messaging ensures timely, consistent communications with customers. It can boost sales via quickly deployed marketing campaigns that build new and strengthen existing relationships.

Technology Case: Customer Velocity's information portal, response management, and marketing components are based on a unified data source for easy management. Also, this solution is easily extensible through traditional programming methods.

Pros:

+ Comprehensive e-CRM solution

+ Easy-to-use development tools

+ Good administration

+ Extensible

Cons:

- Expensive

- Runs only on Windows NT

- No clustering or load balancing

Cost: Starts at $300,000

Platform(s): Windows NT

Delano Technology Corp., Richmond Hill, Ontario; (905) 764-7445; www.delanotech.com.

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