Near the beginning of her career, Hilda Fontana traveled the world for Unisys’ government systems. From Hong Kong to Johannesburg, English-born Fontana would spend months at a time in a new country to help improve the government’s processes. Along the way, she learned more than her fair share of languages: C++, Perl, Cobol, and Python, to name a few. “Some people have a gift for foreign languages, but for me, it was programming languages,” she says.
Recently, Fontana has developed a new way for technology to lead LD Products in a shared language: the development of a leading-edge platform called CRANA. An acronym that stands for customer relations and analytics, CRANA is a clever update on account-relationship management and customer-relationship management tools that will give a new strategic upper hand to every customer interaction.
The tool aggregates consumer data from sources taken throughout the entire organization into a single platform that can help customer service agents best assist each customer’s needs. This platform gives LD Products employees access to factors such as buying trends, the customer’s lifetime value, brand and platform-agnostic order history, and more. Essentially, Fontana and her team are helping to bring the organization together around the shared language of customer experience.
Fontana discovered the need for such a tool when she first joined LD Products in 2016. Customer services agents were working on Microsoft Navision, a complicated platform that she found made their calls unnecessarily long. Using her beloved agile methodology, the team started completing small projects quickly with the plan to make major change. “I’m a big agile girl,” Fontana says, with a laugh.
Rather quickly, her team learned that a complicating factor was that LD customers could purchase the company’s products from two separate sources: the company website and Amazon. In fact, they found that customers would frequently use both outlets at different times. They might also buy products from three of the many different brands under the LD Products umbrella. Simply put, the customer base was undertaking a myriad of touchpoints for the organization, and customer service agents didn’t have the ability to track those touchpoints across internal boundaries.
“LD believes that customer service is not just something we say; it’s an actual attitude,” Fontana says. “But the customer service agents didn’t know enough about the customers to really ‘white-glove’ them properly.”
Rather than search for out-of-the-box software that would do everything they needed or attempt to patch over a CRM tool that covered most of their bases, Fontana and her team decided LD would build its own platform.
“We realized we needed a full analytics database that has not just all our brand purchases but all the data from Google Analytics, Adobe, and all of our affiliates,” she says. “We needed to really know where customers are coming from so we can treat them best.”
Following agile methodology and the Pareto principle, the team aimed for 80 percent functionality to get the ball rolling. The first step focused on enabling customer service agents to help customers looking for tracking numbers, having trouble with their products, or needing to change their order.
“What used to be a 5–7-minute customer service call can now be done in 2–3 minutes, which means agents can take more calls, have more information, and work more efficiently,” Fontana says. “Training new customer service agents also takes a lot less time now.”
After building out a customer service platform, the second phase of the CRANA project was a full data-analytics warehouse that can service the needs of the customer service agents and other departments. In addition to customer information, LD team members would need to know, for example, how much inventory was being held in each warehouse, product proximity to customers, and pricing tiers.
“We wanted to know where the customer was coming from to us and what drives them,” Fontana says. From there, the platform has started to build up steam and spread to other functions. “Once we finish the customer service interface, the managed print services team interface, and the B2B interface, we will start looking at the insights for the marketing side of the house, and our design team will look at how to make the customer journey easier,” she continues.
The organization was able to look at certain trends in a large scale. Products such as printer ink, for example, don’t operate on traditional retail schedules. “Nobody buys ink for their Christmas stocking,” Fontana explains. “There are busy times like back to school and tax time, but ink and toner sales happen when people say to themselves, ‘I’m out of ink. I need it right now.’” The team began to get a full grasp of this reality after developing the CRANA platform, and from there, they could innovate in the way they approach the customer.
Personalization is the talk of the business world, and every organization is desperate for the secret to making a deep connection with each individual customer. That said, LD’s traditional methodology hadn’t carried much data to associate with individuals.
“It always comes down to what the data is being driven by,” Fontana says. “But with whatever information we have about our customers and the campaigns that they respond to, our data can be useful to marketing, and we can market to customers the way they shop instead of sending them emails they don’t want or promotions they’ll never use.”
In a sense, that more robust analytical approach through CRANA can help LD track purchase patterns more accurately and preemptively determine when that customer’s “right now” might be. That approach to truly understanding fits perfectly with Fontana’s own attitude in the office.
“I always start with, ‘How can I help you?’ I really come from the servant-leadership mentality, and it’s exciting to be part of a management team in which we all have the same goal,” she says. “Technology needs to be part of the driving and helping with the navigation as to where retail and e-commerce are going. It’s impossible to just stay in your lane.”
But as all of these different functions and individuals cross paths at LD, it’s good to know that Fontana and CRANA are ensuring they have a shared language.
Photos: Amanda Lopez
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