I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
Offering emergency roadside assistance, travel services, insurance, and financial services. AAA Western and Central New York (WCNY) is among the largest of AAA’s 41 clubs in the United States, with more than 880,000 members. Stretching from the Canadian border to Pennsylvania, AAA WCNY covers approximately two-thirds of upstate New York with its 14 travel and insurance branches staffed by 170 front-line associates, as well as four call centers with 200 associates answering member calls at any point in time.
Over the course of its 110 years operating in this region, AAA WCNY has built strong member relationships. It boasts high member retention and satisfaction rates that would be the envy of other businesses and associations. However, AAA WCNY continually strives to enhance its member service and relationships.
For Lesley Lannan, vice president of member experience, the idea of being a “member” implies more than just being a customer. “That simple delineation of membership implies an intimate relationship. Our members don’t just pay for service; they belong to an organization. Many people still call us the Auto ‘Club,’ which means that we’re in this together.”
To ensure that members enjoy outstanding experiences, AAA WCNY is committed to equipping its associates with the knowledge, skills, orientation, and technology resources to understand the importance of their relationship with their member-customers and deliver experiences to match. As part of this initiative, AAA WCNY sought out a robust customer relationship management (CRM) system—or, in this case, a member relationship management system it called MRM.
Until recently, many of AAA WCNY’s member interactions relied heavily on manual processes and transactions. Members received the personalized service that comes from being served by experienced, dedicated associates, but the manual nature of the interactions came with drawbacks. Member information often was logged in scattered notebooks, file folders and Post-It notes, rather than a centralized database. This also rendered it accessible to only one associate. If a member called or came back into a given office to discuss travel plans they formerly had broached with an associate, they would have to start over with a new staff member if the original associate was not available.
Furthermore, only actual transactions were recorded, not the many non-transactional interactions and exchanges that often took place with a member before a transaction that were instrumental in building the relationship. In addition, AAA WCNY did not have a systematic way to capture feedback and suggestions, whether positive or negative, so it did not have the information to help improve the member experience.
As an organization that processes more than 1.5 million member interactions through its call centers; 800,000 through the Web; and 600,000 through branch visits every year, even small inefficiencies added up quickly.
CIO Bob Leach explains, “We felt we could do a better job by having a tool that would serve up to our front-line associates the complete view of the member. But also, we didn’t always necessarily have the right visibility into our pipelines, and just as any other organization, we wanted to figure out how to be more efficient in serving our members without giving up any of the effectiveness or intimacy.”
Adds David Gevanthor, vice president of travel, “The preexisting systems were very transactional, so we knew how many TripTiks we did and how many travel packages we sold in a year, but we could not relate them well to the membership as a whole, nor could the individual lines of business see the other activities that the member was engaged in. The overarching goal was to provide a higher level of service for the member regardless of business line.”
To achieve this goal, AAA WCNY looked for a member-centric software solution that could support advanced workflows to help associates in the call center and branch offices consistently capture information and serve members. It chose Pivotal CRM from CDC Software, in part because it could support those criteria. It also liked the ease of adoption offered by an easy-to-use system, as well as the system’s flexibility to support its unique business processes and workflows. Pivotal CRM’s interface with Outlook was also appealing because that made it easier for people to learn one new system instead of two.
Another key requirement for the CRM system was superior integration with the association’s transactional systems. “When somebody is broken down by the side of the road, there’s the initial call to the call center, but over the next 30 or 35 minutes, you’re giving them status updates, so it’s really critical for us to have real-time integration from our transactional systems into the membership system,” says Gevanthor.
AAA WCNY knew that adapting the CRM system to its specific environment would be critical to its success. To ensure effectiveness, as well as user adoption, AAA WCNY needed to fit the system to the way its associates worked—something that was not well documented in the branch offices at the time. It took the time to work closely with staff to document and refine work processes before modeling these in the system.
The flexibility of Pivotal CRM and its workflow tools proved invaluable in supporting this process. “Many service systems are so prepackaged and don’t work with our particular set of workflows, products, services and so forth,” notes Lannan. “We found that Pivotal CRM lent itself to customization and to our workflows.”
AAA WCNY also realized that a major factor in the success of the MRM implementation would be the effectiveness with which AAA associates were informed, trained, and engaged in the project. Working with CDC Software, AAA WCNY devised an in-depth communications plan 14 months prior to the system rollout that involved multiple steps and mechanisms, from online learning tools and resources to games and contests. Taking the time to document and model workflows and effectively train associates in the use and value of the system has paid off for AAA WCNY and the 470 users who use it every day.
The company considers the impact of its CRM project within its business as significant. Previously, due to AAA WCNY’s decentralized nature and multiple business lines, when a member called or came in, the associate did not always have the knowledge of themember’s background. “With Pivotal CRM, it’s now a keystroke,” Gevanthor says. “No matter who picks up the call in the contact center or who is at thereception desk in the branch or who gets an e-mail inquiry, they have the opportunity to understand that member’s orientation and meet his or her needs.”
With the system, AAA WCNY has greater visibility and coordination across its multiple business lines. AAA WCNY claims much more consistency and opportunity to communicate across many different business units. Over time, this will help AAA WCNY find opportunities to help members access a broader range of products and services.
The implementation of Pivotal CRM also has been effective for AAA WCNY in closing the loop between marketing communications and member service. Formerly, if a member called in responding to a promotional offer, the associate often was unsure about which of many possible offers the member was referring to. AAA WCNY now stores the marketing literature and communications right within the system, enabling associates to instantly call up a copy of any promotion recently sent to that member and launch into an informed discussion about it.
Tangible benefits of the system after just a few months include increased associate productivity, reduced call times, increased conversion of member interactions into member transactions, and more recorded member feedback items—a 45 percent increase over the same time from the previous year.
Another measurement of the member experience is associate satisfaction and retention. “We now have so many more tools for people at the front line,” Lannan says. “What I hear from associates is that they didn’t realize until now that their occasional feelings of frustration were due to not having the right information available to them when servicing members. The system is addressing that, and as a result, I expect a reduction in turnover and training and recruitment costs, and that goes right to the bottom line.”
However, the ultimate success metric for AAA WCNY is member retention. While retention figures were enviable to begin with, AAA WCNY is confident its system will positively impact this metric. It also expects that as it raises the performance bar on core services and deepens relationships, members will turn to AAA WCNY for additional services such as travel and insurance, generating higher revenue per member—revenue that, as a not-for-profit corporation, AAA WCNY is able to put right back into delivering more and better services to members.
Finally, as AAA WCNY looks to the future, it sees continued innovation, guided by the increased member feedback and knowledge the system has made possible. “Pivotal CRM will be our compass to identify what we should be developing next for our current and prospective members,” says Lannan. “The result will be more innovative products for our members.”