A conversation with ...Tracy Shelby: Connecting the Dots Between Workflow and Customer Service

“I have a 401(k) retirement plan. I checked it today, and I’m not sure exactly how this happened, but I owe $1,700.” —Jon Stewart on The Daily Show

At the risk of understating the bleeding obvious, it’s a tough time for investors. Retirement plans have lost momentum, mutual funds are slack, the stock market has plunged, consumer confidence is low...

Anyway, you already know this. If you’re like most of the adult population, you’ve checked the balance on your funds more often in the past few months than you have in the previous several years combined. It’s human nature to pick at a wound.

Tracy Shelby is “cautiously optimistic” when it comes to the economic downturn of the past 12 months. “Everyone is cost-conscious, and ROI is a requirement for any initiative. But you can’t let that interfere with R&D, which is a two- to three-year vision.”

If you’ve made a call to a mutual fund company recently, chances are very good that your call and your account information is administered through a DST recordkeeping and workflow system. DST provides transfer agency systems and technology for 80 million mutual fund accounts in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. That comprises nearly 70% of all accounts utilizing outsourced transfer agency solutions.

Tracy’s been with DST for 12 years. He started on the product development side, slinging code with the team that created their workflow/process automation product called AWD (Automated Work Distributor). Tracy is now systems officer for AWD sales and marketing, which means he is in charge of AWD’s teams of sales executives and sales support associates and in charge of AWD’s marketing organization.We sat down to talk with Tracy about the present state of the workflow industry, as well as the role that process automation has played in the evolution of customer service.

“In the late ’80s, and particularly after the crash of ’87, we wanted to help our transfer agency customers differentiate themselves, not so much on the performance of their fund products, but based on the quality of their customer service,” Tracy remembers. “We tried to find a workflow product out there that could deliver the production levels that were necessary for mutual fund companies. We didn’t find any, so we made a decision to build one.

“In 1991, we determined there was a need for a customer service component associated with our workflow product,” continues Tracy.

“We began to allow the call center rep to see a consolidated view of not only the customer’s holdings, but also that customer’s past contacts—mail, faxes, etc. that had come into the workflow. We also began using AWD to do call tracking, putting details of the call into workflow.”

While integrating customer service capabilities into workflow, DST also kept pursuing the efficiencies that workflow and task management can bring. And learned a few lessons along the way.

“Great story: One of our early international customers was a large bank in the UK,” Tracy recalls. “When they first started automating processes, it actually slowed down the process. We had put the 15 or 20 steps necessary to complete a particular transaction into the task management technology. Turns out that the users had not been doing all those steps until they had a system that told them they had to!”

DST quickly learned some of the golden rules of task automation. “We figured out how to take a 20-step process and carve it up into maybe three sets of tasks,” explains Tracy. “We could automate the first five or so steps, but then pass the work to a human, who added value to the process where it was really necessary. After that, an unattended agent could handle the remaining steps, such as system updates, verification, etc.”

Those years, the early and mid-’90s, were a golden age for workflow. Businesses were reengineering their processes left and right, in many cases gaining the efficiencies they were after ... in many cases, not. Tracy can tell you that those times have changed.“My favorite quote came from one of our biggest customers, who said: ‘Unlike two years ago, we no longer buy anything just because it’s cool,’” Tracy says. “He said that a few years ago they were bringing in consultants, they were looking at every Web technology, trying to figure out how to squeeze it all into their operation.”

But times have changed. According to Tracy, his customers’ focus is now on two things: “First, you have to be able to prove a return on investment, and number two, you have to have a solution that works. People are buying technologies that are proven.”

Despite the market’s newfound reluctance to experiment on the company’s dime, DST is moving with AWD into new industries. They have recently entered the healthcare space and the hospital market. “Customers are still willing to look outside the box, but you have to be able to prove that the system can work and bring the results that they are paying for.”

“You’ve got to be crisp on the ROI. I’ve got people in my group that do nothing but focus on ROI analyses,” says Tracy. And he’s talking about enterprise-wide returns, not merely departmental deployments. It’s a tougher world out there today, but having many happy customers in the mutual fund and insurance markets (through Computer Sciences Corp., a close partner) helps. And not for nothing, DST’s own 8,800 users who provide transaction processing for many customers on an outsource basis also stands as a key reference account.

With a customer base that relies on the confidence of the general public—from investments through healthcare—DST is in the somewhat challenging position of having to provide infrastructure that also needs to serve as a customer service platform. How can workflow technology provide such support?

“You have to have the productivity improvement side, in order to sell it,” says Tracy. “But you also have to make it easily understood by the customer that even in this market there are significant soft benefits to this technology. When you can answer a customer’s request without having to call him back, or when a customer sends an e-mail and the work management system allows you to answer that e-mail within your reply timeframes; when you can open the system up to the Web and expose information ... these are the things that differentiate you in a down market.

“The markets are going to come back,” Tracy predicts. “The best effect we can have is to help our customers make it easy to do business with their customers. People have got to stay focused on their brand, and provide the level of service that their customers will remember when the markets do come back. The best thing a technology partner like us can do is help with that retention.”

Andy Moore is an editor by profession and temperament, having held senior editorial and publishing positions for more than two decades. As a publication editor, Moore most recently was editor-in-chief and co-publisher of KMWorld (formerly ImagingWorld) Magazine. Moore now acts as a contract editorial consultant and conference designer.As KMWorld’s Specialty Publishing Editorial Director, Moore acts as chair for the current series of “Best Practices White Papers,” overseeing editorial content, conducting market research and writing the opening essays for each of the white papers in the series. He can be reached at andy_moore@verizon.net and welcomes feedback and conversation

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