Although the core business of General Motors (GM) is making cars, it also owns General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC automobile financial services, GMAC insurance and GMAC mortgage and residential). Lisa Charney, executive director of Enterprise Customer Management at GM, has been with the company for 15 years and noticed the conglomerate's extended businesses often operated in a silo fashion. They, for instance, marketed to the same consumers, but each unit did it separately and differently. It wasn't the best use of enterprise marketing dollars.
Recognizing the need for a platform that would provide integrated enterprise marketing functions and customer services, and with a background in customer relationship technology and database marketing, Charney came up with an idea for a test-bed environment and platform. Besides external consumers, all the silo GM groups were marketing very heavily - yet separately - to the 'GM Family' (a group of 7.5 million people, comprised of GM employees, retirees and their family members).
"I thought that if we were to build an Internet portal and a contact center - so that a GM Family member knew they could always come to the GMFamilyFirst.com Web site or a particular 1-800 number and get any product or service they wanted at GM or GMAC - it would begin to show how customer relationship management really works," she says.
In addition to testing the services on the GM Family before moving it out to the public, Charney also realized the importance of starting out with something small enough to gain an understanding, but large enough to have metrics around it. The GM Family would provide sufficient volume going through the portal contact center to establish metrics.
Building on Initial Strengths to Create More Value
GMAC Mortgage and Residential's CEO approved funding for the new marketing vehicle. Charney's background also includes a stint at running call centers, so she knew the key to success would hinge on how the incoming calls were handled by the portal center. It would be too complex for the various business units to coordinate customer contact interaction, so they would need a hub for the unit spokes to be plugged into.
She selected Edcor as the outsourcer to be the hub and handle customer relationship management functions at the portal contact center. There was already an existing relationship between GM and Edcor, as the outsourcer was handling the education services and tuition reimbursement functions for GM.
"It was an obvious value add for Edcor to do the portal contact center work," explains Charney, "because they already had all of our HR information and databases across the GM enterprise. And they already had a call center up and running. So it saved me months of having to figure out how to meld those together." Charney is especially appreciative of Edcor's flexibility and the quality of its contact center staff. "Edcor is very open to understanding our needs as to what type of people are answering the phone," she says. "They must be very capable and good at multi-tasking, and Edcor is good at finding that type of person."
She also was comfortable that Edcor's technical expertise was at a par with the technical nature of the GM platform and that Edcor understood the need for flexibility and partnership in working through all the processes that would need to be put in place for a brand new start-up. Edcor is an Application Service Provider (ASP), performing systems integration, as well as hosting and managing the software. The supplier is also a Business Service Provider (BSP), providing services with the ASP infrastructure platform.
They Saw the Vision
The contract for the multimedia Customer Contact Center (dubbed C3) was signed in December 1999, and phones were up in March 2000. A call center has to hire enough people to match the call volume, and Edcor was good at helping GM anticipate needs. But two months was not long enough for the implementation, and there was a month's delay in going "live." It required a flexible outsourcer because the contact center teams were already in place. "We didn't want them twiddling their thumbs, so there was a variety of things we had to go through to keep them motivated until the system was actually up and running and they could answer the phones," recalls Charney.
The various business units were brought on board in phases, with the final one in the first quarter, 2002. The application was also phased in. They first created the call center functionality, then replicated it on the Web site. Each GM business unit's liaison worked with the Edcor team in a three- to four-week training process with actual on-the-phone testing and training.
The results quickly indicated success. GM experienced a significant increase in response rate to its marketing campaigns using the portal contact center, compared to its traditional three percent direct mail response rate. And one GM business unit realized a nine percent conversion increase in customer retention.
Charney comments that no financial penalties are used in the SLA as a motivator for Edcor. She says, "Very simply, if it doesn't build the volume we need, then neither of us will succeed. We really went at this with Edcor as a partner, not a vendor. They basically had a real niche in education services (although that is a call center support type of activity). I came to them with an opportunity, and they stepped up to do it."
Edcor now is integrally involved in growing the business. "We are very partner-oriented," Charney says. When the need arose for a training facility to train the GMAC insurance people on the new platform being built, Edcor set aside a room and then put together the business requirements for the training. At times, the Edcor account rep for a GM business unit sits in on business development meetings so he can take that knowledge back to the Edcor team and be aware of where the potential challenges will be.
Even so, she didn't know how much commitment to expect from Edcor to this new project. "But their flexibility and staying power has been an unexpected value of the relationship," she says. "They saw the vision and that it was huge. If the company does not think of itself as just an outsourcer and is not treated that way, it's value to us and to them because it helps them grow their business."
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- When an organization has multiple business units acting in a silo fashion, companies create more value by handling the marketing and customer relationship functions on an enterprise-wide basis.
- A service provider is much more willing to be flexible and give the full spectrum of its capabilities when the end result will help both parties grow their businesses.
- An ASP and a BSP provide a buyer with cost savings and speed-to-market.