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CIO Decisions 2006: Easing growing pains with a CRM-VoIP cocktail

Challenged by a spate of mergers, an agricultural lender converged voice and data to leverage its CRM solution and differentiate itself from the competition.

When several mergers left a large agricultural lender with countless silos of data and applications and a mishmash of communications, an IT executive converged voice and data to leverage the full value of a CRM solution, drive up revenue and earn a 100% return on investment.

Greenstone Farm Credit Services is a $3 billion agricultural lender based in East Lansing, Mich. From 1999 to 2003, mergers with four other organizations strengthened Greenstone's market position but also saddled it with a disparate collection of legacy systems at its 37 branches in Michigan and Wisconsin.

By the time they say 'Thank you for calling Greenstone,' we want them to have a 360 degree view of the customer.
Dominic Roberts
director of information servicesGreenstone Farm Credit Services
"We had information siloed in different branch locations," Greenstone's Director of Information Services, Dominic Roberts, told CIOs during his presentation at last week's CIO Decisions Conference 2006 in Carlsbad, Calif. "It would take five or six systems for a FSO [financial services officer] to get a complete picture of a customer."

Roberts said growth challenged his employees' abilities to offer more timely, comprehensive and personalized service.

"Customer-facing companies need to know their customers," Roberts said. "Everything is about making sure you're getting the sales."

Greenstone wanted its employees to have an in-depth knowledge of each customer, not only whether customers have mortgages or tractor loans with Greenstone, but also where they buy their life insurance and who does their taxes.

To meet this challenge, Roberts became an early adopter of the customer relationship management technology Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The technology integrated the different applications and databases Greenstone employees used for customer management.

But freeing information from silos with CRM was just the first step for Roberts. Despite Greenstone's growth, he wanted to preserve the personal, individual relationships the company's employees had with their customers. With Greenstone so much larger, losing that sense of personalized service was a real danger.

Roberts said he didn't want to implement a solution that created a customer experience similar to dialing into a credit card company. He said there is nothing more frustrating than being told by a recording to punch in your credit card account number, only to be asked several minutes later by a customer service representative to recite the account number a second time.

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He found a solution to this problem while addressing another of Greenstone's growing pains -- its patchwork of telecommunications systems.

"We had 37 different telecom systems and we had some branches that didn't even have voice mail," Roberts said.

Greenstone decided to converge its voice and data at all 37 branches with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). But Roberts needed a VoIP platform that could integrate with his Microsoft CRM technology.

Roberts purchased Cisco Business Communications System, a VoIP platform designed to integrate with Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The integrated technology can identify incoming phone calls from customers, instantly recalling data from Greenstone's CRM system. When a call comes in, the Greenstone employee receives a pop-up window on his desktop with a complete picture of the customer's relationship with the company.

"By the time they say 'Thank you for calling Greenstone,' we want them to have a 360-degree view of the customer," Roberts said. "We equate success with managing the customer experience. We want to provide the best response at the right time."

Roberts said the integrated voice and data also encouraged employee adoption of the new technology. It was impossible not to see the value of a pop-up window that told you everything about a customer before they said hello.

Roberts said Greenstone earned a 100% return on investment on its VoIP platform within eight months. The company also saw its average revenue per customer grow by 5% to 10%.

"We didn't want to lose that small-town feel," Roberts said. He said the solution he chose gave his company the competitive differentiation it needed. It allowed Greenstone to know its customers better than the competition.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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