Verizon Bets On Self-Service

Revamped site helps cell-phone company cut support costs and gives customers better access to account information
Competition for customers is at a fever pitch among cell-phone companies, with Cingular Wireless' $27 billion bid last week to acquire AT&T Wireless making the most noise in the industry. Meanwhile, Verizon Wireless views a newly revamped online customer-service site as a valuable tool for improving relationships with some 30 million subscribers.

So far, the service is attracting existing subscribers and has helped increase the number of bills paid online, which cuts customer-support costs and speeds revenue flow. Since going live with the site in September, Verizon has doubled the number of customers who are registered for online customer service and is on track to book more than $2 billion in online bill payments during the first year of the revamped site, more than double the amount paid online last year, VP of IT John Hinshaw says. The revamped service "is a leapfrog of what we used to have or what our competitors have," he says.

The site was redesigned with organized topical tabs to simplify customer access to various actions. For example, the "dashboard" interface gives customers a quick view

of how their monthly charges are trending and provides links to service-plan options. The statements tab lets them see all billing details for the last six months. And an analysis tab takes them to a tool for generating quick reports about any aspect of their usage, with pie charts to illustrate.

Verizon used customer self-service software from Edocs Inc. to develop the look and feel of the front end of the revamped site and to create hooks into areas that contain customers' information.

Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Beagle Research Group, says consumers are getting more comfortable with online self-service, and greater customer participation will be a boon for most companies. Says Pombriant: "The more you can let them do for you, the less expensive your support will be."

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