Special Report: Big Blue puts its golden touch on customer service

Practice what you preach

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Gold Service also is a good opportunity for Big Blue to practice what it preaches about conducting e-business in the b-to-b arena. By demonstrating how online e-business works, IBM can help grow that business segment.

As part of the development of Gold Service, IBM began compiling a database of its customers’ areas of interests, equipment preferences and other customized information. That information is used to develop customer-centric Web sites that would keep IBM information accessible to Gold Service customers on a 24-7 basis.

In the last two years, Gold Service has expanded from nine corporate customers to about 300 worldwide, Flack said. Each Gold Service member has his own customized, password-protected Web site packed with customer-specific information, including products that are already installed, possible upgrades and new equipment, preferred pricing contracts and IBM account contacts.

The company declined to name any of the companies using its Gold Service and would not offer specifics about how it chooses customers for Gold Service. However, in a sign that the program helps build customer loyalty and satisfaction, IBM executives say they plan to extend Gold Service invitations to another 200-plus accounts worldwide this year.

"We have done research taking similar sized accounts and looking at the growth of accounts with Gold Service and those without," Flack said. "Over a two-year period, it is astounding that the growth rate of revenue is 25% greater in the accounts that participate in Gold Service compared with accounts that do not."

Another plus: The sales force itself doesn’t view Gold Service as vying for their jobs, but rather as much-needed support and backup for those times when the representative is not available, said Dianne Lucca, interactive marketing manager-Gold Service communications manager for IBM in Chicago.

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