Red Cross boosts donor relationships with new CRM system

The American Red Cross hopes to infuse new life into its donor marketing program with an overhaul of its CRM and call center operations.

Sometimes the most complex of projects are driven by the simplest of goals.

The Biomedical Services division of the American Red Cross is in the home stretch of a multimillion-dollar project to deploy new CRM systems, change internal business processes, upgrade the call center technology and consolidate 26 nationwide call centers into three larger centers.

This complex CRM deployment effort has been in the works for five years, spans multiple departments and will fundamentally alter the way the Red Cross markets its blood donor organization.

But it all comes down to this straightforward goal: Do not annoy the volunteers who so generously give their blood for those in need.

“We call them more than we would like to,” said Natasha Roberts, executive director of the customer relationship management unit. “One of the primary drivers is to minimize how many times we reach out and to make it more meaningful.”

At the heart of this effort is a goal to create donor relationships that will last years and ultimately encourage donors to become Red Cross advocates who promote the organization’s mission.  

According to Roberts, the Red Cross donor marketing program has been driven primarily by a telemarketing operation. Some donors are called too frequently and find it off-putting.

“We are trying to encourage them to get stuck with a needle and then we may call them too many times after that,” Roberts said. “That’s what we are trying to improve.”

Donor marketing changes dovetail system upgrades
Changing the way the organization brings in donors required gathering customer feedback not only on the blood donation process but also on the collection of marketing experience data that led up to the donation. With this data, the Red Cross is able to determine what donors like and do not like about the process.

As the Red Cross considered this donor engagement challenge, several related technology and organizational issues were rearing their heads, Roberts said.  

Both the existing custom-built CRM applications and the call center technology platform needed upgrades. Plus, there were more than two dozen call centers across the country, and they were not standardized on a single platform.

It made sense to zero in on donor engagement and make sure it was addressed as the organizations assessed how to replace these existing systems, Roberts said.

The Red Cross put out a request for proposal and considered all the major CRM vendors before selecting Oracle's Siebel CRM marketing software.

“Siebel was the best fit, particularly with what we wanted to do from an integrated call center perspective,” Roberts said.

New CRM scheduled for summer kickoff
Robert’s group plans a staggered implementation of the Siebel applications beginning this summer, with an anticipated completion date of mid-2012. The first applications will be Siebel marketing analytics and online scheduling, which the Red Cross will use to manage donor marketing.

The analytics will create more detailed profiles of donors. That data in turn will be integrated with call center operations and will be accessible to agents so they can engage more purposefully with volunteers. A person’s donation history will be used to better target volunteers for upcoming blood drives.

Meanwhile, the call centers require a major upgrade as well. The organization determined it would be more cost-effective to consolidate 26 centers into three larger centers and standardize on one technology platform.

The Red Cross selected Interactive Intelligence to provide a new telephony platform and predictive dialer and hired Systems Integration Inc. to oversee the deployment.

For Robert’s team, the big challenge is overseeing so many system and organizational changes at the same time. After considering alternative approaches, the Red Cross determined it did not make sense to try a phased approach because the components were interdependent.

“We can’t deliver on our vision until we have our Siebel tool,” Roberts said. “To roll that out without standardized processes or standard platforms would have been very challenging.”

She said a key function will be to integrate the Red Cross online scheduling portal with call center operations. “Before, we had functions that were silos. We’ve had feedback where a donor said, ‘I called and scheduled an appointment and then went online and couldn’t change it.’ ”

Big lesson: Don’t underestimate planning time
Years of planning went into this effort, and other companies considering a cross-organizational overhaul should account for plenty of up-front planning time as well, Roberts said.

“You really need to get down to thinking through processes at the work-instruction level,” Roberts said. “As a result of this, we had to redefine business processes.”

For example, the organization is now shifting marketing functions that had been in the sales group to the marketing group. Roberts said that this change is a “phenomenal shift” internally, but the plan is to make it barely perceptible to donors.

“Donors will see more subtle changes over time,” Roberts said, adding she hopes volunteers will say, “Hey, I don’t have to call to complain that they are calling me too much. You know what? This is just a really good experience.’ ”

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