Software de Inovação
Mentor Graphics

Cost Savings Lead to Customer-Contributed Innovation at Mentor Graphics

In 2003, Tom Floodeen, vice president and general manager of the Customer Support Division at Mentor Graphics, charged his team with encouraging a new customer behavior. “We want all customers to go to SupportNet before calling the contact center.” Program Manager, Customer Support Marketing (CSM), Kim Kelley explains “Tom understood that since the Web is open 24/7, the majority of the time customers will find their answers themselves online without ever having to open a service request. And we won't have to answer the same question over and over.” This was a smart decision. Not only does this type of approach help customers, but it impacts the bottom line costs of contact center resources. Mentor Graphics launched SupportNet, its online self-service customer support Web site in the early 90s. Because the company sells over 600 design engineering software products, customers often had difficulty finding the exact information for their specific products. In 2006, the company completely redesigned its SupportNet site to be both product centric and task focused. Trying to open a service request first launches a search. Based on that search, 40 percent of customers now find an answer without ever opening a service request. Only if the customer doesn’t find the information she wants is an online service request created.

The Challenge
But the “SupportNet First” focus didn’t address those calls or emails which weren’t actually bug or problem related. Kelley explains, “We realized that many issues are really product enhancement requests. In fact, over 5,000 “service requests” to Mentor Graphics each year are requests for improvements to the product--nothing is wrong; customers simply want to do new things that aren’t yet included in the products.

All of these enhancement requests (ERs) had to be handled individually via a detailed review process that included marketing and, ultimately, development engineering. But there was a significant bottleneck with processing such a large volume of incoming suggestions, and many ideas never made it through the process. Instead hundreds of ideas went into a state of limbo. These were not only missed opportunities, but the customer’s voice wasn’t really being heard and wasn’t influencing product development to any great extent. Every request for enhancement was handled in the same way without any scaleable method of checking on the priority of the enhancement to the customer community at large.

The Solution
Recognizing the missed opportunities, as well as the time required to winnow down the enhancement requests from the service requests, Floodeen determined that the company needed to come up with a better plan. He understood that support is not the best route to capture new ideas and incorporate customer innovation into product design. Floodeen chartered a team from customer support and product marketing to collaborate on a plan for an online site where improvements could be suggested, discussed, and voted on by users of the software. Mentor would then clearly understand user priorities for product enhancements.

After evaluating several different innovation management offerings, the company found a solution that met its needs in WebStorm from Brightidea (see sidebar). WebStorm offered the specific functionality that Mentor Graphics was looking for. One of the most impressive features for Kelley is WebStorm’s ability to match new suggestions as they are submitted with existing entries. This eliminates duplicates and makes it easy to see patterns.

“On the Starbucks site, there’s a place to submit ideas,” Kelley explains. “They had gotten rid of the Valencia syrup--my favorite--and I suggested that they offer it again. I went back a few days later and searched on ‘Valencia syrup.’ There were over 200 separate posts about it, but they weren’t consolidated in any way. It seemed to me that not understanding the users’ ‘aggregated voice’ would make it very difficult for Starbucks to easily implement ideas. For me, the consolidation of ideas and the ‘de-duping’ that WebStorm provides is very powerful.” Simple, fast implementation for multiple campaigns was another big draw, as was immediate visibility to campaign statistics. “Every time someone suggests a new idea, the numbers automatically increment on the site.”

But more than just great technology, “We wanted a vendor that was open to a long-term relationship with us,” states Kelley, “and we wanted a vendor that would allow us to have impact on product direction.”

Once they had chosen the Brightidea WebStorm, Mentor Graphics began a pilot program. Mentor sells products that range from a few hundred dollars up to millions of dollars. The PADS product line is one of the lower-cost product suites, yet there are many service requests as well as a very engaged user group. To offset support costs, it seemed like an excellent group to target with an idea-generation project.

Within the PADS group, the release planning cycle begins six to nine months before release. Therefore, the company determined that it needed a six-month pilot to get ideas into the development cycle. In June 2008, Mentor Graphics pre-launched the Mentor Ideas site with about 20 customers who were regular beta testers of the PADS products.

“To start off, we seeded the site with 26 ideas that we already had planned to include in the next release,” Kelley states. “But when the customers voted on them, some didn’t end up as top ideas. This actually changed what is going into the next release.”

As customers began populating the site with new ideas, Kelley talked to the pilot group to get feedback and to modify the site based on their input. The pilot was then launched to 10,000 PADS users; over 400 users registered in the first week, and, in the past six months, that number has grown to more than 645 registered users.

“We called the site ‘the wild, wild west’ because we didn’t know how customers would perceive it,” states Kelley. But customers seemed to like it: “From the original 26 seeded enhancements, we now have 435 ideas on the site.” The next release of PADS will include some of the ideas, all of which were top vote getters on Mentor Ideas. Although some of these ideas were already planned, seven new enhancement ideas came from customer submissions.

Kelley and the product division understand that just having ideas submitted and voted on isn’t enough. “The proof is how we respond,” she admits. “We don’t have the capacity to formally respond to each idea, nor do we want to. The wisdom of the crowds will tell us which ideas are most important. The real personality of the PADS site is Jim Martens, the PADS Product Marketing Manager. His blog is where he discusses the ideas that are being considered.”

The Results
The bottom line results for SupportNet have been impressive. The company consistently measures customer satisfaction on SupportNet, and, according to recent figures, 78 percent of the customers who used self-service support solved their problems via the Web site exclusively--either by finding the answers quickly or by opening an online service request. Kelley notes that this is very high when compared with industry standards, especially since Mentor's support issues can be very complex. “One reason we believe the customer satisfaction is so high is that we focus huge effort on creating valuable content.”

According to Kelley, “Just three years ago, over 80 percent of our service requests came through the phones. Now, at least 65 percent of requests come through SupportNet, with only 35 percent coming through the contact center. And we’re aiming for an 80 percent/20 percent split between online requests and phone requests.”

“The bottom line result,” Kelley continues, “is we have significantly increased customer satisfaction and added millions of dollars to the bottom line by leveraging the scalability of online support.”

The Future
Mentor Graphics plans to focus on creating several more product-focused idea sites, as well as private mentor ideas sites. Another area of focus in the coming months will be recogition for their customer contributors. Now that the PADS-based Ideas site has proven successful, the second product-specific Ideas site is being launched, focusing on the Expedition product line.

The Expedition site was prelaunched to 80 users in late November. Mentor Graphics seeded 29 ideas, which rapidly grew to 43 in the first two weeks. “The pre-launch audience tends to be our strongest contributors even after the site is made available to all customers. I think this bodes well for its success,” states Kelley.

As the Mentor Ideas for Expedition site goes into full release, the company plans to continue launching Ideas sites for other product lines.

“We recently talked about the Mentor Ideas sites at our User to User Conference, in the product breakout sessions. It was very well received, and we have seen an uptick in usage since the conference.”

Mentor Graphics is also testing the concept of creating private Ideas sites for large customers, who are concerned about privacy.

Currently, users gain points for contributing, and if someone promotes their idea, the contributor receives more points. Eventually, Kelley explains, “We are going to reward top contributors. That people promote your ideas is the measurement of what resonates with the crowd. Right now, the only reward is the ego boost. And we don’t even show the top contributors on the site. But we plan to create a program that will take those key contributors and reward them with continued influence on our products. We are looking to see how they can participate in vetting and testing products, not just submitting ideas.”

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