Magazine Article | July 1, 2000

Building A Bigger Customer Base

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

RCN is a provider of national long-distance phone, cable television, and Internet services. Being successful with those offerings, however, requires excellent customer support. That's why RCN recently implemented a customer relationship management (CRM) solution.

Integrated Solutions, July 2000

For those of us whose jobs revolve around technology, it's easy to forget that others are not always computer literate. That's an idea you want to focus on if you're a national telecommunications and Internet Service Provider (ISP). Odds are, more than a few of your customers will have problems connecting to the Internet. That idea has not been lost on RCN, the nation's first and largest facilities-based provider of telecommunications services to the residential market. It is also the largest regional ISP in the Northeast, and the nation's seventh largest ISP. RCN recognizes that service is its business – and that it can't prosper without supporting its customers. That's the premise behind the customer relationship management (CRM) solution the company recently implemented in two of its customer service centers.

Business Shortcoming Defines Integrated Solution
Currently, RCN is providing long-distance telephone service, cable television, and Internet services in markets from Boston to Washington, D.C. The company will soon expand that service to include the San Francisco to San Diego corridor. That broad geographic base makes it difficult to give customers the support they need. Moreover, the company had been maintaining three separate customer service databases for its three respective product lines. Customers using two or more RCN services could not obtain account information or support from a single source. So, a CRM solution at RCN began with the vision of consolidating its databases.

Before evaluating vendors, however, RCN defined its needs. Associated with its other problems was the need for real-time information. Current and accurate data was a pointed problem, not just because of the company's broad geographic base, but also because of the dynamic and fast-paced nature of the telecommunications industry. The company's ideal solution would provide a consolidated database, accurate real-time information, and a variety of integrated support methods: in-person, telephone, e-mail, Web-browser, and Internet chat. "We knew that we needed a better solution," comments Les Berry, director of Internet product development at RCN. "Bridging the gap between an awareness of our problem and the actual solution was a little harder, though. That's when we began searching for a solution."

Telecommunications Vendor Evaluates CRM Vendors
With company needs defined, Berry began to evaluate vendors. Initially, there were nine candidates. For each vendor, he either visited an installation site or hosted an in-house demonstration. "It was a lengthy process," recalls Berry. "We evaluated vendors for about six months, beginning mid-year 1998. I remember driving down Interstate 95, calling vendors and grilling them on their solutions. We gave vendors stringent requirements – the solution had to integrate with our database and be easy for our CSRs (customer service representatives) to use. More important, however, was the return on investment (ROI).

In December 1998, RCN chose the eCRM product suite from Primus, a Seattle-based provider of CRM software. Specifically, RCN chose Primus' Explorer, Publisher, and Builder. Altogether, the installation took RCN nearly four months. Berry and his team picked CSRs with a knack for technology – and let them critique the Primus solution. They tested and evaluated the product, determining how it would work best for the company.

"We decided to test it in a team environment," explains Berry. "We went through a quality assurance process to convince ourselves that the system would fit our needs. After about four months, we felt confident about the accuracy of the solution. We went live at that point, and everything has gone well since."

Implementing A CRM Solution
Each of RCN's customer service centers employs roughly 300 people and runs 24/7 shifts. Telecommunications may be RCN's core business, but not without the support of the representatives at the company's call centers. When residential customers have problems with service, the CSRs are charged with solving matters. Walking someone through a phone installation can be difficult – particularly when you don't have all the answers. Phone representatives at RCN have to be well-versed in not just one, but three technologies. And finding 600 IT-educated representatives is…well, daunting. But, the Primus solution accommodates representatives' lack of IT experience. It is designed to search for solutions to problems according to keywords.

For example, if a customer calls the help center with a question, the representative can pull up account information by name, address, telephone number, or any other keyword related to that individual's bill. If the customer has more than one service from RCN, the new consolidated database allows multiple accounts to be accessed simultaneously.

Then the representative can ask the customer about his or her particular problem – and search for a solution according to keywords. For instance, if the customer cannot properly connect to Internet service, the CSR might type in "Internet connection," or "modem." The engine will return a list of possible causes and solutions to the problem. Overall, RCN hopes to decrease customer waiting time and allow problems to be solved within a single service call.

Obtaining An ROI With CRM
According to Berry, "The biggest return on the Primus solution comes from improved customer relations." That return is hard to quantify, but there are benchmarks that attest to the system's success. Berry has noted a reduction in the time that customers have to wait before speaking to a representative. Additionally, representatives are being trained faster and better. Specifically, with the Primus system, it takes less time to hire, train, and get a CSR on the floor and working. And, when CSRs begin to take calls, they are better equipped to address problems with the system's database of solutions. Berry said there has been about a 10% decrease in call times since the new system was installed.

The system is also allowing RCN to gain a clearer and larger picture of its operations. If the company is receiving 500 calls each day because of one problem, the system can flag that problem and bring it to a supervisor's attention. With the ability to track these types of activities, RCN can not just better handle problems, but can also prevent them before they occur.

Upgrades Entail Additional Benefits
Although RCN is happy with the current status of the Primus solution, it doesn't want to remain complacent. The company is already planning on adding Primus' Interchange product, the Web component of its eCRM suite of products. That installation will expand RCN service to the Web, where customers can use a GUI (graphical user interface) to search the company's database for solutions. Eventually, RCN will even include an option to talk with representatives through chat programs. The company has maximized the functionality of its solution and now wants to expand it to every possible avenue of communication.

One Company's IT Philosophy
When asked what RCN's philosophy on technology is, Berry responds, "Our number one goal is satisfying customer needs. On the product side, our core business, we offer technology – telecommunications, cable TV, and Internet service. With that background, it only makes sense that we use technology to support our customers and our products."

As yet, that philosophy has been working well for RCN. Its CRM solution has allowed the company a perspective on its business that it otherwise wouldn't have – and that's good. If the company hopes to continue its expansion, it will need its CRM solution and additional technologies to support its rapid growth.

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