Honorees Talk Customer Service

Next up was a discussion of Innovation in Customer Service, kicked off by the CIO of ING Americas, David Gutierrez, who was wearing orange shoes to reflect his company’s logo and mission: fresh and refreshing service. Like orange juice.

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To deliver service, says Gutierrez (right), you need to know your customers. To do that, Gutierrez says, metrics are key. To know how to improve, you need to know where you need to improve. To know that, you need to be able to measure performance.

ING trains rigorously to teach its employees to focus on the customer, and listen to the customer. Contrary to what Whitney said, Gutierrez believes that the customer can tell you what he needs, what he wants.

Gutierrez and ING have found that the Web does not materially change the customer service environment. Customers want their questions answered and their problems solved quickly. On the Web, for Gutierrez, that means a goal of two-click resolution.

The cost of processing on the Web is 10 cents. Answering a letter is $6. Answering a phone call is $10. Everything done off the Web erodes ING profits, and if customers become too expensive, ING will “invite them to leave.”

Next came Sue Kozik, EVP and CTO of TIAA-CREF. She says what attracted her to TIAA-CREF was its passion for customer service (the nonprofit is really owned by its customer-participants) and the fact that it placed IT at the center of its business model.

For example, call center reps at TIAA-CREF are judged on resolution, not time spent per call. “If it takes an hour to solve a client’s problem,” says Kozik, “spend an hour.” As we all know, that’s an unusual way to run a call center.

TIAA-CREF’s customers have been with the company for 20 years on average (it’s portable from institution to institution). This is quite unusual in the financial services business (and the portability is unique). Given that span of time, and the portability, IT has a big job to do tracking the customer’s investment history.

When Kozik came to the company, IT was very complex, siloed, and dispersed among the various lines of business. As she says, “I didn’t have best of breed; I had most of breed.” Kozik has responded by building an open platform that is accessible to its competitors. Why? Because it was advantageous to its customers—the company’s core value—offering them choice. Which is pretty bold.

After Gutierrez and Kozik spoke, they sat down with CIO Senior Writer Tom Wailgum. The first question Wailgum posed was about IT’s role in protecting customer information. The challenge, says Kozik, is to maintain that balance between security and ease of use. It’s easy to be secure by asking the user a dozen questions each time they want to access an application, added Gutierrez, but the customer doesn’t want to do that. He wants to be safe, and he wants the process to be easy.

A CIO from the audience asked Kozik if she saw a difference between the practices of for-profits and not-for-profits. “One of the luxuries” of working for a not-for-profit, said Kozik, “is not having to answer to Wall Street every quarter.” But Kozik added that TIAA-CREF’s customers expect the same level of service from them as they would expect for a for-profit.

A CIO from the hospitality industry was intrigued by the idea of including competitors in one’s IT environment, allowing customers the radical choice of choosing a competitor over you. Kozik maintained that by doing so, TIAA-CREF attracted new clients. In essence, the company was offering one-stop shopping for financial services.

—David Rosenbaum

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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