Canadian Tire revamps centres

When Canadian Tire Acceptance Ltd. of Welland, Ont., wanted to improve customer satisfaction on requests to its call centres, it turned to Seattle, Wash.-based WRQ Inc. to solve its problems.

According to Steve Folkerts, a solutions consultant at Canadian Tire, the company’s call centres were tied to complex terminal-based applications that could require a service representative to access up to eight different information sources to complete a call. It was difficult for the customer service representatives to give customers top-quality service because of the technology issues they were facing.

To bring its call centres into the Internet era, Canadian Tire chose WRQ’s Verastream Host Integrator to pull customer information into a Chordiant Software customer relationship management (CRM) application.

“We want to increase the value to the customer,” Folkerts told Network World Canada during an interview at the recently-held Gartner Symposium IT Expo 2001 in Toronto.

According to Kristin Connor, market manager at WRQ, the product helps to bring information together to make it easy to access.

“(It) allows companies to pull information from different data sources and give that information to the end user,” Connor said.

Before the integration, Canadian Tire faced the challenge of accessing information that was stored in COBOL-based third-party applications. Information in those applications included customer data like purchase histories, interest rates, credit limits, available balances and payment records – all vital information to the company. According to the WRQ case study on the implementation, the Verastream Host Integrator is composed of server software and a set of development tools that support applications on IBM mainframe, AS/400, Hewlett-Packard, Unix and OpenVMS systems. The solution is also non-invasive to the host.

Canadian Tire first started consolidating its call centres in 1997, and the Verastream implementation was just one phase. As an added bonus, the mainframe integration came in under budget. Folkerts said he expected it would represent approximately 10 or 15 per cent of the total project costs, but it ended up being only two or three per cent.

“It’s actually easy to make a computer grab some information; it’s hard to make it do it 1000 times fast, and manage the environments,” Folkerts said. “That’s why we bought Verastream.”

The entire mainframe initiative, which included the Verastream implementation, took about nine months to complete, and then there was a pilot program to test the new system, Folkerts said. The pilot is now finished and Canadian Tire is rolling out the solution to desktops throughout its call centres. He added installation was very easy.

“They were able to come onto our site, install the product with one mainframe developer and a Unix administrative person,” Folkerts said of WRQ. “They were able to do the basics of configuration. One day to set up, and a second day to get it done. I saved $80,000, and I saved time and headache.”

According to Rebecca Johnson, a product marketing representative for Verastream, using the Host Integrator to feed information into one front-end application helps Canadian Tire retain call centre employees because the customer service representatives no longer have the stress of dealing with multiple information applications.

For more information about WRQ or Verastream, visit the company on the Web at