April 04, 2001, 10:22 AM — Bryan DiGiorgio has spent the past year consolidating H&R Block Inc.'s three customer call centers into one.
The center is being standardized around San Jose-based Clarify Inc.'s eFrontOffice customer relationship management (CRM) software, which will handle a "smorgasbord" of service activity, including customer support for the firm's tax business, along with mortgage and other financial product ventures, said DiGiorgio, vice president of Kansas City, Mo.-based H&R Block's service center.
Last October, just after H&R Block started working with Clarify, Ontario-based Nortel Networks Corp. announced that it was buying the software maker for $2.1 billion in stock.
The plan was to make Clarify an independent subsidiary of Nortel, with the parent helping to boost sales of Clarify's eFrontOffice, which integrates Web, face-to-face and phone customer interaction functions.
A year later, DiGiorgio said, the plan is working. He said he believes that Clarify, now part of a Nortel electronic-business unit, will help H&R Block consolidate all disparate data on customers into a single view and use it to cross-sell financial products.
"As a customer, I have seen only benefits," he said.
Other users are giving the buyout a thumbs-up as well.
"Nortel will take on the investment of integrating those [disparate call center channels] together and deliver a turnkey solution that will reduce costs and expedite time to market," said Scott Lien, information systems leader for CRM systems at Minneapolis-based Best Buy Co., an electronics, appliances and entertainment software retailer.
Filling the Gaps
"Clarify is alive and well at Nortel Networks," wrote Peggy Menconi, a research director at AMR Research Inc. in Boston, in a recently published report. Nortel is filling in gaps in the Clarify suite to make it more competitive with CRM leader Siebel Systems Inc., she said.
But some analysts wonder just how successful the marriage of the two companies has been in achieving its goals - both in terms of sales and in speeding integrated products to market.
"Overall, Clarify has had a solid, but not a blowout, year," said Erin Kinikin, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc. Although Clarify said it's doing well, Nortel doesn't break down its revenue numbers, so that claim has to be taken on faith.
Users said there has been no difference in the levels of service they receive, nor have there been any major price increases, as sometimes happens with mergers.