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Case study: GM's new CRM initiative begins in the family

General Motors is piloting a new CRM initiative with a familiar group of customers, family members of its employees. A few months into the project, it's already seeing major return on investment.

Rather than attempting a top-to-bottom CRM endeavor from the start, Detroit-based General Motors is eating the...

proverbial elephant in pieces and starting with a slice of its business that it feels close to, its employees and their families.

While the test group appears small in size compared to the car company's overall reach with consumers and suppliers, the GM Family audience represents a significant piece of revenue for the firm. With more than 400,000 employees, GM estimates that the group actually makes up between 10% and 20% of its overall sales volume.

An area where GM is already bringing CRM to bear is in its employee vehicle-purchasing program. Workers and their families are eligible for deep discounts on GM trucks and cars, but a longstanding paper-based certification system was rife with inefficiency and corruption, according to Lisa Charney, executive director of enterprise customer management for GM. She estimates GM and its local dealers were losing some $40 million in revenues per year.

That's where one small piece of the overall CRM puzzle comes in. GM is using software from Siebel Systems Inc., San Mateo, Calif., to automate the certification system so members of GM Family enter a pin number at the dealership and get their verification on the spot.

"This was a great example of how we could make the dealers, one of our most important groups, much happier. And the fraud is removed from the system at the same time," Charney said.

The overall CRM project at GM, dubbed C3RM, is built using the vertical market-specific Siebel eAutomotive 7 applications package. Neither Siebel nor GM would comment on just how much the software is actually costing the automaker.

The Siebel eAutomotive package includes applications for sales, marketing, call center management, and field service. GM is in the process of building functionality around each area to deliver to the GM Family audience. Thus far the focus has been on developing call center applications and tools like the employee discount program.

Kurt Olnhausen, general manager of Siebel's automotive group, applauds GM for tackling a smaller, but significant part of its business first. "Using a large pilot that is also a real day-to-day operation is a truly unique methodology," he said.

According to Charney, Siebel was the leading contender to win its business from the start, based largely on its ability to cater to massive organizations, though she concedes "it does miss the mark on some very deep requirements, but those are things that you can customize."

Charney admits that most of the letdown is with the analytical applications built into the software package, though she credits Siebel's professional services group and senior executives with playing a critical role in the early success of C3RM.

The six month-old CRM effort aims to be wholly self-financed, a target Charney claims the company is already reaching. She estimates that roughly 20% of the project's $20 million-plus startup costs have already been paid off, using a system of fees that the CRM group charges various GM divisions for aiding in the handling of customer services.

For instance, if Charney's group answers a customer's simple billing question for GMAC Mortgage, it gets a fee paid by the business unit for handling the call. That fee helps defray CRM costs. Charney's group also generates leads for the various business units when interacting with GM Family customers. C3RM is also working with some of GM's partner companies already, providing similar services.

"The GM supplier audience is the same as the family group," said Charney. "We know a lot about them because they're part of the larger family. We're building on all these relationships to prove ourselves fast."

Looking forward, Charney said GM is planning to move C3RM into new areas rapidly. For its next step, the group is creating a GM Family credit card that will serve as a membership tool for the entire CRM program.

The project is already attracting widespread recognition for its lofty goals and execution. Researchers Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn., recently gave C3RM an award as one of the leading CRM deployments it has studied.


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