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Call to Action

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 03-07-2007 Print

Call to Action

This wasn't the first time Volvo Cars Belgium attempted to boost its customer-service ratings. About ten years ago, the company sought to improve customer service by codifying processes for every step of the customer experience, and created a "process map" for the entire buying and ownership experience. The map was essentially a customer relationship management system, and though it was paper-based, no detail was overlooked: prospecting, sales leads, ordering, delivery, maintenance. The process map was so extensive, and so thorough, that it appeared foolproof. Or so Volvo Cars Belgium thought.

"We thought our customer-service ratings would increase," says Cordier. "But they didn't." For actual service managers, the processes were just too theoretical—and were not widely adopted. After a round of surveys to customers and the dealerships, Volvo Cars Belgium learned that all the pretty processes in the world meant nothing if employees didn't follow them. Adding to the problem was the fact that different process steps were not directly tied to annual Volvo customer surveys, which meant there was no way to measure their effectiveness. The problem dogged Cordier for years. "We really didn't know what was working and what was not," says Cordier.

The big problem was that the dealers found the paper-based processes time-consuming and difficult to manage. They told management they needed tools that were simpler, and more integrated. For instance, the dealers wanted to be able to connect to two of VCC's most prized applications: the car configurator (which allows customers and dealers to customize and order their vehicles online) and the vehicle information and diagnostics system, used for troubleshooting mechanical issues with the cars. "They wanted a tool they could really use," recalls Cordier.

After some soul-searching, Cordier decided it was time to join the digital age with a complete customer-relationship management system. And so began the laborious process of connecting all 65 dealerships together, and then connecting that network back to corporate headquarters. The process began back in 2001, when Volvo Cars Belgium put together a project team of six dealership managers to represent the entire dealer network. It didn't take long before the company realized that dealership managers were not the people closest to the actual problems. Their input into the process was valuable—but it was the mechanics, the sales staff, even the receptionists, who really needed to have significant input in the software decisions.

Cordier anticipated that problems would inevitably arise from incorporating input from so many different constituents, and he created subgroups beneath each of the six dealership managers. It took two years to sift through all of the disparate employee input and locate a software product that could meet the company's needs. Though Volvo Cars Belgium is not insignificant in terms of size—altogether the company sells about 12,000 cars a year—each dealership is, in fact, a small business. The top-selling dealers only sell about 400 cars a year. They have limited staffs of roughly 25 people per office. The company needed to find software that would be well suited to a small business, but at the same time was able to scale up to meet the needs of the larger organization.

As it turned out, the company was unable to find one system that did everything it was looking for. But they decided they could build it using a two-phased approach.

For the dealership network within Belgium, Volvo went with a local software vendor, XPower Automotive Software, a dealer-management software specialist based in nearby Beervelde, Belgium. XPower's XDMS product, a Web-based dealer-management system (DMS) specifically designed to tie together multiple dealerships dispersed across a region, took eight months to install and roll out to all 65 dealers. The DMS could handle everything from sales and lead tracking to booking maintenance and repairs to accounting. The biggest hurdle, aside from upgrading a great deal of hardware—including the purchase of Linux servers and hundreds of new PCs—was manually converting existing data into the XDMS format, which was built upon Bedford Mass.-based Progress Software Corp.'s OpenEdge development platform, a standards-based, service-oriented system. The conversion took the majority of the eight months to complete.

The process of converting data from the old IBM AS/400 systems into XDMS required Volvo Cars Belgium to develop specific programs to perform the translation. In some cases there was more than 10 years' worth of detailed information that needed to be converted. And the conversion needed to be done in such a way that it appeared to the dealers as if the data had always lived inside the XDMS system.

Once the DMS was installed, Volvo Cars Belgium was halfway home. The company was now able to share data on individual cars and customers across dealerships. But a bigger challenge loomed ahead: Belgium now needed to hook up their IT systems to corporate headquarters—and this is where SOA really came into play. "We had to hook up to a different world over there," says Adamo. "It's like we were speaking French and they were speaking Chinese." Why? Adamo is referring to the fact that VCC uses Java technology in a Windows environment, while XDMS is based on the Progress platform.


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