In-Depth

Building what they want at essential.com

Customer satisfaction is a prime goal at essential.com. Founded in 1995 as a wholesale telephone service provider, Burlington, Mass.-based essential.com now brokers a range of modern infrastructure services that include online billing and negotiating with utility, Internet and telephone service providers.

Michael Mooney, director of customer service for essential.com, comes to oversee the firm's customer relationship management (CRM) initiatives after a stint supporting a traditional call-center environment, albeit for the non-traditional business of Internet service provider.

Essential.com uses CRM software from SilkNet Software Inc. One of the biggest appeals of the product is integration, said Mooney. "You have a whole environment that you can take online. It takes orders, provisions for them, and it automates the communications back and forth." As a result, customers can log in, get information and make changes to their own accounts.

For Mooney, as for others, CRM project scope is an issue. "Definitely the approach we're taking is phased," he said. "We set out initially to automate back-office functions; next, we want to further automate the customer side. We'll be pushing the self-service capabilities of the [essential.com] Web site." But he added, because essential.com was able to limit goals, "we were able to get online quickly."

Personalized navigation is one of the aspects of e-commerce that can quickly boost the cost of a Web-based project. Yet it is quickly becoming de rigueur for Web-based CRM. How does Mooney view this new "checklist item"?

"We're not doing heavy profiling at this point," he said, "But It's starting to blossom for us. We're starting to build our site and product based on user feedback. But we're not out to control the customer's behavior -- we're trying to give them what they want."

These and other engagements indicate CRM is evolving, said SilkNet Vice President of Marketing David Fowler. It is not wholly incorrect, he added, to view CRM software as "a type of middleware."

"In the past, how a company did business defined the integration. Now, the customer defines it. So you have to build a system that is self-configurable," said Fowler.

-- Jack Vaughan

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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