Instead of merely displaying a customer invoice online, WorldCom Inc. wanted to give its customers the option of ordering services and analyzing bills online. The communications provider turned to a customer portal to make doing business with WorldCom more efficient.
Known as the WorldCom Customer Center, the portal supports online ordering, trouble ticketing, billing and network management. It also allows customers to communicate with customer service representatives via e-mail, according to Michael Marcellin, director of eCRM marketing at WorldCom.
"From a larger eCRM strategy view, we are seeking to give our customers another way to interact with us," he said.
The Customer Center is aimed at giving customers more value when they do business with WorldCom. For example, customers using the frame-relay product can receive real-time online reports that detail the service status, Marcellin said.
Customers also reap efficiency gains from the portal. Instead of waiting for an account representative to order a service, the customer can order online. Customers can also change their services online, including the ability to reroute phone traffic if one call center becomes unavailable, according to Marcellin.
Clinton, Miss.-based WorldCom said it also enjoys the benefits efficiency through the Customer Center because online transactions typically take less time than traditional transactions, Marcellin said.
Cost savings have been recognized in the consolidation of different applications under development and resource savings from managing services through the customer center. Electronic billing has also saved WorldCom the cost of printing and mailing paper bills, he said.
In terms of customer loyalty, those metrics are much more difficult to measure. Marcellin noted that customers had been asking for a portal prior to its implementation.
To get the portal up and running, the IT staff had a two-part strategy. First, it needed to integrate its off-the-shelf software, which WorldCom declined to name, to conduct sign-ons, personalization, site intelligence and content management. Next, the portal had to be connected to the Web-based applications that contained customer information, according to Elizabeth Hackenson, director of WorldCom Customer Portals.
While off-the-shelf software played a role in the Customer Center, in-house efforts were also important.
"In-house (software) development focused around the entitlement function of the portal infrastructure," Hackenson said. This determines which data customers can access and can be very complex due to multiple customer identities. WorldCom required several entitlement database access methods, she said.
WorldCom said cooperation between the marketing, customer service, service operations, IT and engineering departments made the project run smoothly, Marcellin said.
Using reliable off-the-shelf software minimized the risk in the IT development process, Hackenson said. The IT team did find that integrating multiple project teams -- as a result of the legacy portals that needed to be integrated into the WorldCom Customer Center -- posed a challenge, she said.
"I don't think we would have been successful if we didn't have executive focus and coordinated interest," Marcellin said. If the portal had been led by only one facet, such as marketing or sales, it probably wouldn't have met the needs of the entire company, he added.
The Customer Center runs on Unix and was integrated and developed in six months. WorldCom declined to discuss costs.
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