For Whom the Road Tolls

For Whom the Road Tolls

SIDEBAR: Making Contact

Until it developed a strategy for dealing with its customers, Transurban's reputation for service was on a road to nowhere

Transurban didn't think it needed a customer management strategy. CityLink's toll technology was supposed to automate the process of sending out bills and statements. But when the original tolling software proved to be bug-ridden and inefficient, the company discovered right away that it needed a better means of dealing with its customers.

"It was never envisioned that we needed a CRM system," says Transurban CIO Cesare Tizi. "All they had in their first iteration of the technology was basically what you'd call a billing system. When the prospectus was put together, they thought that all the computers had to do was grab a transaction from the e-Tag, rate the transaction and put a value on it, and then put it on a statement that was sent to the customer. It looked easy."

What Transurban didn't realise was there were going to be 800,000 accounts and behind each account was a person who might want to contact the company if they encountered any problems with their e-Tag. "When they designed it they didn't take into account that the customer might want to talk to us," Tizi says.

Not only did CityLink's customers want to talk - to the tune of 220,000-240,000 calls a month - they often rang a second time. And they didn't like having to repeat what they'd talked about the first time . . .

"When you turn around and open this road and 800,000 customers want to talk to you and you're not prepared for it, it's a disaster," Tizi says. "Each call was costing us about a dollar a minute, and we were selling a product that was only worth about $7. So if we spent seven minutes talking to a customer to sell him a day pass, not only did we blow our profit, we blew our profit for the next three sales."

Tizi says the end result was a "snowball effect", where problems with the technology were forcing customers into greater contact with Transurban, placing ever more stress on the company's IT resources - resources which were already stretched very thin.

"If your systems generate mistakes, even if it's not many, that creates more drivers for the customers to make contact with you," Tizi explains. "The system was creating mistakes, which drove more calls. Soon there were more customers than we could handle. When customers called, we couldn't answer their queries or deal with them in an effective way. Things just kept escalating and escalating."

SIDEBAR: A Limited CRM Convert

When Tizi joined Transurban in 2000, CRM was the latest industry buzzword. ERP was yesterday's news, and CRM was being hyped as the new way to make more money from customers. Tizi, however, remained unconvinced.

"I certainly had some of the big problems with CRM implementations in my mind when I ventured into this role," he says. "CRM didn't achieve its promise because it was complicated to install - in some cases more complicated than ERP systems - and the value add simply didn't come along. You couldn't actually sell more things to the customer, or sometimes you found the customer didn't even want a relationship with you."

In the end, Tizi decided CRM did have a place in helping Transurban manage its relationship with customers, but as a means of reducing the cost of dealing with its customers, not to get more out them. "We had another look at CRM to see exactly what we were trying to achieve, and it got down to plain old saving money in dealing with the customer," he says.

The plan Tizi envisioned was to formulate a "channel strategy", which involved creating a range of new streams though which customers could interact with Transurban, including the Web, customer service kiosks and call centre technology that mixed human operators with interactive voice response and natural language speech recognition. The goal was to ensure that the interaction would be the same in every channel and, crucially, that on the back end each customer interaction would be recorded in a single, easily accessible record.

"To us CRM became a means of migrating customers away from human channels - our most expensive channel - into electronic channels. But the idea was to give them an experience that was consistent across all of them, and one that a human operator could visit when a customer did interact with us."

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