Mentor Graphics Corporation: A Case of Customer Centrism

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Article ImageCompany: Mentor Graphics Corporation
Mentor Graphics helped create the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) industry in the early 1980s, developing software and hardware solutions that make it possible for electrical engineers and electronics manufacturers to design integrated circuits, printed circuit boards, semiconductors, simulation tools, and other communications and computing equipment faster and more cost-effectively. Founded in 1981, the Wilsonville, Oregon-based company has 28 engineering sites and 48 sales offices around the world, servicing more than 20,000 customers. Its revitalized customer support site, SupportNet, helps customers troubleshoot technical issues, open and track service requests, download product updates, and find documents.

Business Challenge
For most of its history, Mentor Graphics serviced its customer base almost exclusively by telephone, using sophisticated automatic call distributor systems. This type of hands-on support made sense when the majority of the company's customers were large enterprises with worldwide operations and needs that demanded personalized attention. But in recent years, Mentor had acquired and cultivated thousands of smaller customers with different support needs. Spending hundreds of dollars per call to support those smaller companies, which now dominate Mentor's installed base, simply wasn't an option.

Changing customer expectations compounded this problem. Worldwide customer support web director Christine Egli says, "It's good to have excellent phone support capabilities, but when you have customers who shop [online], they're going to expect a site where they can troubleshoot problems." Although Mentor deployed a website as a component of its support operations in 1995, the site lacked the knowledge management infrastructure to resolve customer problems effectively. The company's "customer listening program"—an ongoing initiative through which Mentor surveys customers who have sought technical support, to gauge their satisfaction with that support—confirmed it: SupportNet wasn't consistently delivering results that met their needs.

Vendor of Choice: InQuira
Based in San Bruno, CA, InQuira markets a suite of integrated applications that help companies improve customer interactions both online and on the phone. The four-year-old company's InQuira 7 platform includes search, knowledge management, analytics, and user-experience applications. Its recently patented Semantic Processing Engine technology uses the latest information-retrieval and Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques to understand the intent of a query and return results that meet the searcher's unique needs. Marquee customers include AT&T, Bank of America, E*Trade Financial, Honda, and Pitney Bowes.

The Problem in Depth
Widely considered an EDA pioneer, Mentor Graphics has been at the forefront of the movement that automated the design of digital circuitry, analog systems, and the like in the last quarter of the 20th century. A quick scan of its website confirms that Mentor's product line is complicated and acronym-heavy, its product documentation extensive and dense.

The company's reputation for quality customer service is well known, however. As a five-time recipient of the STAR (Software Technical Assistance Recognition) Award from the Service & Support Professionals Association, Mentor Graphics is a member of the SSPA's Hall of Fame. But by 2002, Mentor's customer support division was receiving a different kind of feedback, this time from its evolving customer base. Large and small customers alike were using SupportNet in greater numbers and with greater frequency, but the self-service experience they were expecting from the site fell short. They weren't just having trouble finding information; the information they did find wasn't necessarily solving their problems. "We really live and die by our SupportNet surveys," Egli says. "The responses we receive tell us where we need to invest more time and effort."

If Mentor was going to shift more support to the web to keep costs down and deliver the high-quality web experience its sophisticated, "do-it-yourself"-minded engineer and designer customers expected, it needed to build a stronger, better site. Getting there would require a far more effective knowledge management system, a better means of tracking service issues addressed via the site, and a metrics system that would enable customer support staff to monitor the quality of the support the site was providing and to make improvements when necessary.

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