While many corporate enterprises struggle to successfully implement customer relationship management solutions, a large fraternal benefit society says it has already achieved a single view of its membership.

The Independent Order of Foresters (IOF) recently announced it had completed the installation of a customer relationship management (CRM) solution from Siebel with the help of Cambridge Technology Partners (CTP). The IOF sells insurance and investment products to approximately one million members worldwide, the bulk of them in Canada and the United States.

According to Chris Dingman, the IOF’s senior vice-president of member delivery services, the association investigated CRM to retain and better satisfy their members. Until recently, this was not an organization with a sophisticated IT infrastructure. Service requests were relayed to the field sales team by phone or fax before e-mail was rolled out about a year ago and its sales force was equipped with laptops. When a member phones into the IOF’s service centre, for example, the centre creates a service request that goes to the field-based agent. The request could involve anything from a need for increased coverage, a change of address or that the member is expecting a child. Dingman said the Siebel solution has allowed the society to pull all the membership information into a single place. “Everyone has the same information all the time,” she said.

Jeffrey Wright, CTP’s regional sales director, said the company has worked with customers in similar situations.

“They were unique in the sense that they had a membership,” he said. “That would have been the only difference. Think of any other client: they want a better understanding of their customer segmentation, they have an ideal of the data that they would like to see.”

Dingman said that difference makes the results of a CRM project all the more important.

“Because we’re member-based, having our members feel that we really know them, however they may be dealing with the IOF was non-negotiable. It was essential,” she said. “That’s different from being a commercial business saying that we want our customers to know us . . . here they expect a different level of knowledge.”

“Siebel is a Windows-like system; most of the folks there were only familiar with mainframes,” he said.”We tried to put some functionality but not too much so they could get familiar with the system.”

The learning curve was steep in this case, Dingman added, given the magnitude of technology entering the IOF’s workforce.

“They were hit basically all at once with e-mail, point-of-sale and CRM,” she said.

Dingman is aware that many organizations are finding it difficult to get business units working together to make CRM projects consistent across the enterprise. “Statistically, we should fail,” she said. “There were lots of bumps along the way.”

The IOF tried to put an emphasis on business process design, she said. Its service centre was being built from scratch, which meant that at least parts of the organization were ready for change. “There wasn’t enormous amounts of attitude to overcome,” she said. “Our sales force was going through massive change themselves, so if anything our challenges were getting their attention in the early days.”

The marketing department and sales managers are universally seeing the platform as a key measurement tool, Dingman said, while the agents continue to grow in their understanding and acceptance of the tools.

“You know the old saying where they say that in order to improve your golf swing you have to cause your golf swing to deteriorate for a period of time? It’s a real challenge for anybody to learn new productivity tools and therefore get the productivity out of them.”

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