Whirlpool Sends Personalized Info to Callers

Whirlpool Corp., Benton Harbor, MI, is reworking its inbound call center to make it capable of quickly sending consumers personalized, appliance-specific brochures instead of full catalogs that hold information on all of the appliance giant's products.

The new system, which is scheduled to become operational in November, will let operators enter information on callers and the products that interest them through standard browser interface, and then build four- to 16-page color mail pieces on the fly. The brochures will include information on only the products customers want to know about and will have a turnaround time of between 24 and 48 hours.

Timing is crucial for a company like Whirlpool, whose customers are often making “duress purchases,” quickly replacing an appliance that has stopped working or malfunctioned.

“People get home, and there's water all over the floor,” said Brett Knobloch, Whirlpool's manager of interactive consumer marketing. “There's not a lot of time involved in the search process. We've got to make the most of it.”

To carry out the task's creative and strategic end, Whirlpool four months ago turned to direct marketing and custom publishing company CE Communications, a unit of advertising and marketing firm Campbell-Ewald, Warren, MI. The two companies have worked together on various projects over the last three years.

Potential customers get the toll-free number from owner's manuals and print advertising. The number also has been included on direct mailings CE has carried out for Whirlpool, the lists for which the appliance company compiles through its warranty cards.

Based on data gathered by the call center operators, Whirlpool plans eventually to add a follow-up e-mail marketing dimension to its new system, communicating with customers while they wait for their brochures to arrive in the mail.

CE in turn linked up with ColorStream Technologies, the Chicago-based direct marketing arm of Webcraft Inc. whose SmartPage dynamic page layout technology forms the backbone of the project for Whirlpool. SmartPage connects a client's database information, creative options and layout templates to digital four-color printing technology.

“We are [working as] a marketing support arm to CE Communications on how to implement these programs cost-effectively and in a timely manner,” said George Willock, president/CEO of ColorStream. “We build the systems from the conceptual stages, [determining] what's going to best make sense with the databases, the images, text and templates and so forth. We're the ones that put the pieces of the puzzle all together.”

Willock declined discussing the financial figures surrounding the project, though Knobloch said the new system's cost is a “drop in the bucket” compared with generating traditional print materials.

“The real benefit is to deliver the same high quality of traditionally printed literature in the same time frame to suit our customers' needs at a lower cost, with better one-to-one connection,” Knobloch said, adding that ultimately Whirlpool will compare conversions rates between the old and new systems as well.

Knobloch noted that the project borrows some programming from Whirlpool's interactive agency, J.G. Sullivan Interactive Inc., South Bend, IN, which about a year and a half ago helped launch a program for Whirlpool's sales people and trade partners to custom-build brochures from specifications on a Web site.

“We're borrowing a lot of that old programming and marrying that with the technology at ColorStream and the templates from Campbell-Ewald. So it's really those three parties and the internal folks here who are making it happen,” he said.

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