DMCNY Speaker: Web, Call Centers Must Integrate

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NEW YORK -- The route to customer satisfaction and revenue can be found in making your Web presence and telesales operations work together with a cohesive strategy, Bob Curran, vice president of TeleWeb at IBM's software group, said yesterday.

Curran explained IBM's Web-contact center integration efforts while addressing the Direct Marketing Club of New York here at its monthly luncheon. Learning to make Web and telesales work together is essential to growth, Curran said.

Thanks to television and the Internet, the fundamental problem in sales no longer is getting product information to as many customers as possible, he said. The challenge is to address how customers access the many points of information available to them.

In the 1990s, IBM saw the chance to create more business using both telesales and the Web, but found that its different sales operations weren't working together. Customers said it was hard to do business with IBM, Curran said.

"We saw early on that customers were getting frustrated," he said. "They were getting multiple touches from multiple sources."

The software group alone has five brands, and in one case a customer got about 50 pieces of direct mail from IBM in two weeks, Curran said. Any business unit with a marketing budget thought it could launch its own, independent campaign.

As the 1990s closed, IBM saw a chance to strengthen its Web and telesales through integration. The goal was to make it easy to do business with IBM, Curran said.

IBM implemented new infrastructure, including Web chats and call routers, to improve the speed with which it could react to customer needs. It synchronized its online and telesales marketing messages and tried to ensure customers had one "IBM experience" no matter what their contact point or brand interest.

The company revamped its Web site in November. IBM's former site design focused on marketing and branding but didn't consider the customer's needs, Curran said.

IBM reorganized the site around what customers want to accomplish, including: buy a product; get product support; and get information. Each page of the site has a "contact module," which customers can click to get additional contact opportunities with IBM, either by telephone, online chat, e-mail or receiving a quote.

Because of the changes, IBM thinks it can be 80 percent to 85 percent sure that when customers call the company, they already have started the sales process on the Web site, Curran said. IBM's goal is to close $2 billion worth of sales that were initiated on the Web in 2006.

The next step will be to make the Web site fully customizable to individual customer needs, Curran said. IBM also recognizes that its strategy is aimed at existing IBM customers and wants to look at ways to pull in new customers on the Web.

"I don't want to say we've succeeded," he said. "It's a journey. We've got a long way to go."


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