Building on Client Satisfaction as an Organizational Pillar

InBev is the world’s leading brewery, with revenues of 14.4bn Euro in 2007. The company holds the number one or two position in over 20 key markets—more than any other brewer— and has a key presence in both developed and non-developed markets. Headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, InBev employs almost 89,000 people world-wide.

Selling to more than 130 countries, InBev works through six operational zones: North America, Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America North, and Latin America South. Currently, InBev six shared services organizations: Brazil, Canada, The Chech Republic, Hungary, Korea and most recently, Argentina. The shared services model focuses primarily on a few key pillars, including: process orientation, technology, service level and client satisfaction.

Main pillars

The process orientation pillar was set up to support the main cycles of operation, such as buying (procure-to-pay), sales (order-to-cash), human resources (people business service), and accounting and reporting (account to-report). Organizing along these lines also means that we have no "departments" within InBev’s SSCs, just macro processes. Technology is a key enabler for shared services. An integrated platform and a constant quest for process automation are key areas of focus
for us.

The agreed service levels formed the basis of our SSC targets, via service level agreements with clients (other departments, distributors, suppliers).

Pre-shared services, we had not been used to measuring, let alone evaluating, our administrative process. So this new approach caused some transitional difficulties, to say the least particularly in terms of interacting with other departments. Managing the client relationship, therefore, became a key tool for success.

Our client satisfaction management pillar is considered the most subjective of our pillars. Anyone working within an SSC should be oriented to service— not task. Additionally, the rest of the organization needs to work more orderly, or formally, while still maintaining the flexibility to adapt to frequent changes. SSC leadership needs to develop this ability.

Client satisfaction management

The client management model we have applied is focused on improving client relationships. We arrived at our particular model only after testing many alternate routes. The first step was client identification. We sorted our diverse client groups by common interest. A Master Client heads each of these groups, and is responsible for setting SLAs. For example: A daily sales report by country, broken down by geographical region and SKU, is a deliverable for all sales representatives (clients) of this country–but there is only one Master Client for the group, who defines expected service levels–time and quality–for this report. Master Clients are also responsible for delivering what we call the reverse SLAs. These are the required inputs, procedures or information from clients, which allow the SSC to deliver what is set out in the SLA. Taking again the example of the sales report: The reverse SLA would be the matching of all point of sales to the right sales regions.

Client requests that have not been previously agreed, because they are not common, are called spot requests and are treated differently. The request becomes a service ticket and is analyzed by trained agents who classify them according to service type, with a related response time and script (a procedure on how to answer this request). If this request is complex, it is escalated to process specialists. Scripts are reviewed every time a request changes, in order to improve response time and quality.

Actual client satisfaction is verified through various channels, created and tested over the years. Our main methods for evaluating client satisfaction include: a satisfaction survey; an open channel for receiving complaints, appraisals and suggestions; and Master Client meetings. All of these feedbacks are valuable for improving our internal client management in order to provide better services.

We have run satisfaction surveys for years, trying out different approaches. We have found the most effective surveys are developed by specialized teams focusing on questions that get to the core of clients’ thinking. In the early days of implementation, however, we adopted simpler surveys, which provided enough feedback at the time. As the client relationship progresses, of course, the model has to become more sophisticated.

An open channel provides another method for customer communications. This is a mailbox for the clients to send their comments on any service. It is an effective channel if well communicated. An interesting aspect of this channel is the fact that all messages are addressed to SSC leaders, including the general director. Frequently, these leaders contact the clients directly, to discuss issues.

The one initiative that has proved to be the most efficient one in improving client satisfaction is the Master Client meeting, characterized by transparency, face-to-face discussions, and preparation. While the SSC presents its results to the Master Clients, they debate the results, on the basis of their own experiences. Discussions are fact-based. Frequently, solutions are developed during the meetings. The meetings are scheduled monthly, but if needed can occur more frequently. We have found that any "negative" perceptions of the SSC can be limited by such meetings.

Improvements in client satisfaction

It is important that the SSC is seen as part of the company, supporting its change and practicing the same cultural values. That is not an easy task, as shared services are often associated with cuts in staff numbers. InBev is improving this image by making the shared services routine similar to that of the other operations: SSCs run 20 minute morning meetings, similar to sales teams, in which daily objectives are set. The meetings end with a motivational component similar to that of sales meetings. All participants remain standing during these meetings, which are focused on a
big dashboard where monthly performance is charted. This set up helps not only the clients to see the SSC as an integrated part of the company, but the SSC employees feel equal to other staff.

A final component that strengthens the SSC’s connection with the clients is sharing common targets with the business. When the SSC is participating on a sales, production or distribution project, the final project target is shared. This improves client management as the client/provider relationship is transformed to one of a complete partnership. And this is where we see all the difference.

About the Author
Marcus Galeb joined InBev in 1995. He held various positions in finance and shared services, before being appointed shared services director for Quilmes, Argentina (a subsidiary of InBev) in October 2007. Prior to this appointment, Galeb was the project leader of the InBev Canada shared services implementation.