October 02, 2003

Canadian Tire, mostly known for its retail businesses-including automotive, sports and leisure-also has a growing financial services component and a fiercely loyal customer base. Today, 90 percent of Canadian adults shop at Canadian Tire at least twice a year, the company says.

The mega-retailer's subsidiary Canadian Tire Financial Services (CTFS, Welland, Ont.), runs Canadian Tire Bank, markets a variety of insurance and warranty products, and has grown the Canadian Tire Options MasterCard portfolio to include more than two million cardmembers. Its mission: to keep those customers for life.

The company's contact center is well on its way to moving that strategy to reality. The center was rated "best in Canada" in two of the past three years by an independent research group.

"Now our challenge is to move into this next generation of customer service," says Mary Turner, VP of customer service and operations at CTFS. "That involves not just servicing customers, but also concentrating on retaining customers and up-selling."

MOVING TO THE BIG LEAGUES

To get there, CTFS needed a way to integrate customer data stored in different systems so call-center representatives wouldn't have to hunt through several screens to get the information needed to service customers. Four years ago, CTFS deployed a Chordiant 3 platform and contact center from Chordiant Software. (Cupertino, Calif.)

"One of the things Chordiant brought early on was a way to bring the different sources of customer information together and make them accessible and much more useable by front-line reps," Turner says. With that in place, the company could present dynamically-driven information to the rep within seconds of receiving a call. For example, based on customer information, the offer could be a supplementary card for a spouse, a line of credit, an insurance product, or the company's own auto club service.

That's not to say every call is a sales call. "What reps don't want to do is feel that they're offering things that customers wouldn't want to buy," she says. "We're...concerned about doing things in a way that will add to customer loyalty, not destroy it."

A few months ago, the company upgraded to Chordiant 5, taking advantage of new functionality including a knowledge server and an enterprise marketing suite. Useful for campaign segmentation, planning, scheduling and execution, the suite also offers modules for budgeting, resource planning and capabilities that allow CTFS to gauge its capacity to support specific campaigns.

"That's taking us to kind of a next generation of more-integrated marketing programs," Turner says. That testing often takes place in the call center through incoming calls as opposed to telemarketing, which the company has moved away from.

A group of about 25 customer service reps specialize in testing the viability of marketing offers. Through the system, a marketing manager can select customers whom they think would be attracted to a particular offer. When, and if, one of the pre-selected customers calls the contact center, he or she is directed to one of the designated service reps prepared to close the deal.

Communication with the marketing department has improved in direct mail offers, as well. "Through Chordiant marketing director, we'll know what's being sent," Turner says. Today, marketing communications are accessible from the service rep's desktop, where they can reference the original mailing to help answer customer questions.

In fact, customer service reps have even become more involved in reviewing marketing materials before they're finalized.

That inter-departmental communication may be the biggest benefit gained from the new system, according to Turner. By having systems that cross the departmental boundaries, she says, such data helps to generate cross-divisional dialogue.

"Then you really start to have those customer-centered discussions," Turner adds. "We've talked about this for years, but we're finally starting to actually have them. The technology won't make it happen unless you're doing a lot of other things. But it's hard to imagine that it could happen unless you have the technology."

This year the company will complete its upgrade to version five. On the drawing board for next year is bringing its collections group onto the system, and adding competitive offers to the knowledge server so that service reps can see what the competition's saying, straight from their desktops.

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Fast Facts

INSTITUTION: Canadian Tire Financial Services (Welland, Ontario).

FINANCIAL INFORMATION: 2003 earnings $94 million.

BUSINESS CHALLENGE: Retain customers and cross sell products with new call center technology.

KEY QUOTE: "We've seen better retention and we've been able to do up-sells and cross-sells." -Mary Turner, Vice President of Customer Service and Operations, CTFS