Palm Customer Service, IT departments embark on Homeric software odyssey
From PalmTree, Palm's corporate intranet

Palm, Inc.
The U.S.S. Constellation is a key Palm client.

By Joe O'Shea

In a near-prescient stroke of genius, Joe Alfano came up with the perfect name for Palm's new customer relationship management (CRM) software implementation: Project Odyssey.

Perhaps it was just a catchy name to him, but chances are Joe - who works at Palm partner Sitel's call center in Madison, Wisc. - knows the near-epic effort it will take to customize, test and roll out Palm's new CRM software, Siebel Call Center, across the enterprise.

When all is said and done, Odysseus's difficult journey home may seem like a cakewalk compared to the considerable hurdles overcome by Palm's Customer Service (CSO), Information Technology (IT), sales and marketing organizations.

"Project Odyssey was initiated as a joint venture between CSO and IT," says David de Valk, Palm's vice president of U.S. Customer Service Operations and the project's executive sponsor. "In addition, senior leadership from many different groups - such as Corporate Marketing, Enterprise Marketing, Sales and Finance - recognized the need for Palm to have an integrated CRM system."

According to Bill Galey, Palm's director of U.S. Call Center Operations and the project's business owner, this joint venture came about by serendipitous circumstance rather than by design. "IT had some initiatives and our paths just sort of crossed," says Bill.

As CSO and IT were conducting independent information systems reviews in preparation for the spin-off from 3COM, both realized that one of Palm's most glaring software needs laid in the CRMarea. There was little, if any, sharing of customer knowledge among the company's customer service, sales and marketing arms.

Palm, Inc.
In order to massage the Palm-US Navy relationship, Palm CEO Carl Yankowski visited the U.S.S. Constellation.

While Siebel Call Center will eventually be utilized as an enterprise-wide tool by Palm, it will first be implemented by CSO this fall for three reasons.

* First, Palm's legacy CRM software contract with Scopus expires at year's end.
* Second, as the handheld business heats up, Palm believes that customer service is an area where it can stand head and shoulders above the competition. "Perhaps the most important reason is the recognition that world class customer service and support is a core part of Palm's strategy to win," points out David.
* Third, adds David, since CSO "speaks directly with more customers than any other Palm organization, we have the ability to rapidly collect vast amounts of information about our customers."

Siebel Call Center will eventually give Palm agents at all customer "touch points" - whether it be telephone or electronic support centers, or sales and marketing - access to a global database of updated, in-depth customer and product knowledge. With Siebel's help, Palm will offer top-notch customer service and create a closed-loop information flow over multi-channel sales, marketing and customer service operations.

Palm will also receive project assistance from Deloitte Consulting, which will oversee business process, training and change management; Inforte, which will help integrate and configure the new software; and Siebel Systems, which will develop end-user training programs.

"Palm is investing in the type of enterprise solution that will help us to better understand our worldwide customers," says Kim Abell, Project Odyssey's CSO business process lead. "Siebel Call Center will make Palm more efficient because we'll first offer more targeted support, and then more focused sales and marketing programs."

Across the planet, Palm currently utilizes various customer support software solutions that do not collect customer information in a central database. Thus, if a Spanish businessman in Chicago encounters problems with his Palm, an American-based customer service representative won't have access to the customer's transaction history, which is stored in a separate system in Europe.

"Most of our customer information databases are on separate islands, wholly owned by different groups such as sales, marketing and different call centers around the world," says Bill Galey. "Now, customers often waste their time repeating their problems or histories to us."

Palm, Inc.

It can be a frustrating process, and not just for the international business traveler. Because Palm's telephone and electronic support teams currently work on different systems, a customer who has depended on telephone support but tries the e-mail route will encounter similar problems.

"In the future, Siebel Call Center will present Palm users with an integrated, simple and hassle-free experience regardless of the channel of interaction people have with us," says Kristen Dauphinais, Palm's Project Odyssey manager. "And Siebel will allow Palm to service the customer in the most cost-effective manner possible."

The first rollout of Siebel Call Center, which will take place at Sitel, will focus on supporting individual consumers, according to Deloitte Consulting's Nick Christoffersen, a senior consultant on the project. Other key customers who will be supported in future rollouts for different organizations include the developer community; organizational and enterprise customers; and direct-channel partners.

The longest part of Project Odyssey, the user design and architecture phase, wrapped up in late August. The detailed design phase ended in mid-September, while the development and configuration portion will end shortly. The all-important test and rollout phases are up next.

"We've planned the first live rollout for the Sitel Call Center from November 6 to 17," notes Nick. "This is so that Sitel's representatives have about a month to become as comfortable with the new system as they were with the old as their busiest season approaches."

While CSO is the first Palm group to employ Seibel Call Center, further installation of this software package will soon be customized and rolled out to marketing and sales. Over time, it may be used by all Palm organizations, if and when it makes sense.

"A commitment to a solution such as Siebel is more of a journey rather than a destination, hence the name Project Odyssey," says David de Valk. "What this means is that we cannot and will not stop once we have the system implemented. We must continue to add new features, new functions, new business rules and new upgrades. Our commitment is one of a platform that will evolve over time."

(Project Odyssey updates will be published periodically.)

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