Unexpected Complications

By Jennifer Lawinski  |  Posted 07-05-2011

Bally Total Fitness Gets Its CRM Into Shape

When Bally Total Fitness began a company-wide overhaul to streamline operations, the company decided it also needed to focus on the experiences of its fitness-club membership, including how members were able to communicate with its service centers.

As a result of the CEO's visit to one of Bally's call centers, where he saw firsthand the difficulty that customer service reps were having in satisfying customer needs, the IT team was given a mandate: Dramatically improve the member service experience.

The fitness company's call-center technology had been developed in the 1980s and required extensive training on its many manual processes. Data had the potential to get lost when it was handed off between employees during simple tasks. With 270 clubs and more than 3 million members worldwide, the company needed to automate its customer relationship management (CRM).

"The communication channels were really limited to telephone only," says Guy Thier, CIO of Bally Total Fitness. "We're trying to extend the channels a member can talk to us on and be more responsive to their needs."

In August 2009, Bally began evaluating CRM solutions, keeping in mind that the new system would have to play nice with its 30-year old legacy systems residing on an AS 400. After looking at products from companies including Salesforce.com, Siebel and Sword Ciboodle, Bally chose the Sword Ciboodle product.

"We felt that the other players were good if you had a B2B environment and a little bit more standard set of features and functions and data points," Thier says. "Our industry is a little bit off of the standard - Business-to-Consumer - and a combination of subscription services and other services. It's a little bit outside the norm of what those other products handle."

Implementation of the Sword Ciboodle system began in October 2009. "The biggest challenge was building a service layer around the legacy technology," Thier says. "We created web services around the AS 400 and then built the Ciboodle integration point to those web services. Then we had to get the project synced up with Ciboodle's front end services."

The project cost about $6 million, Thier says, and included deployments of a new Genesis telephony infrastructure and servers to support it. "There was a fairly substantial server purchase."

Unexpected Complications

The system went live in July 2010, but not without a few glitches. "We did have an unexpected complication right after we went live which was really an issue with a browser," Thier says. "We went live with IE and the response time wasn't satisfactory. Then we switched to Google Chrome and that increased our response time quite a bit. It took us a few weeks to try and figure out what the issue was and try and get it resolved."

Improvements were made to the company's ability to handle outsourced call center traffic to centers in Costa Rica and Florida. However, training reps on the new platform had mixed results, depending on whether employees were new or had been using the company's legacy systems.

The training time for new call-center reps was slashed from about three weeks to a few days. "It used to be 90 days till we had a fully productive call center rep," Thier says. "Now we're down to a few weeks. Every major metric we're interested in tracking for member services has exceeded our expectations."

Longtime employees, however, did not adapt as quickly to using the Ciboodle One desktop agent. "We were surprised to see how quickly new call center reps took to the software," Thier says. "And we were surprised at how long it took existing call center reps to get a handle on it. They were so ingrained in the legacy technology that shifting to something easier to use was more difficult. Initially feedback was it was confusing. But after a few weeks, they started getting the hang of it and realized that it was a lot more efficient for them."

Once reps became more comfortable with the system, handling time decreased.

Bally is now looking at ways to leverage its CRM system to streamline inbound email handling and route messages to the correct person based on the message's content. "And we're looking at putting chat on our website so that we can have hosted chats or productive chats if someone is struggling on our web site," Their says. Both functions are available in the Ciboodle product.

System maintenance will require training an internal support team, which Thier says should be ready to take over later this year. "The only reason we would need to customize anything we currently have is if there's a significant shift in the product mix that we're selling [such as a] change in how we're doing business," he says. "Otherwise we should be in pretty good shape."

For other CIOs looking to implement CRM solutions to improve customer relationships, Thier advises working closely with business partners and having conversations about current requirements as well as what you believe your requirements will be one to two years out. Their says he expects Bally's CRM system to be in place for at least five years.

"Keep those [requirements] in the front of your mind as you're going through the project," Thier says. "Our goals of increasing member satisfaction and staff efficiency have both been met."