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Whole New Industry: High-Tech Firms Help With Customer Service

ORI SASSON admits that he is an incorrigible entrepreneur, finding tough solutions for ``corporate communications problems.'' Mr. Sasson also admits that he is one of a new breed of computer-linked business pioneers - a technological leader in a field that was virtually unknown until just a few years ago, but which now has the potential to be at least a billion-dollar industry.

Sasson is chief executive officer of Scopus Technology Inc., a privately held firm in Emeryville, Calif. It is a market leader in client/service information management systems. The 20 or so high-tech firms operating within this sector develop automated electronic systems to enhance customer service programs.

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The programs vary from company to company. But essentially, the automated systems allow a company to better deal with its customers through telephone or other direct contacts as well as provide more information to the corporation about the specific needs of its customers. Scopus is a case study of a new company operating in a new field.

Scopus was founded in January 1990 by four brothers, all immigrants from Israel. ``Between ourselves, we have six master's degrees, and one PhD,'' says Sasson, who holds dual citizenship in the United States and Israel.

Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, a venture capital firm, became Scopus's major financial underwriter in November 1992. American firms currently spend between $500 million and $1 billion developing in-house systems similar to the type of automated systems that Scopus designs, says Mark Gorenberg, a Hummer Winblad partner.

``What we are seeing here is the actual development of an entirely new market,'' Mr. Gorenberg says. ``Ori Sasson saw the need for [automated] systems.''

International Data Corporation, a marketing research firm in Framingham, Mass., contends that customer information management systems represent one of the ``fastest-growing segments'' of the software application market, a company spokesman says.

Since its inception, Scopus has returned a profit each quarter, Gorenberg says. Revenue and profit figures are not publicly released, but Sasson says they are substantial. The firm hopes to go public in the next few years, probably by being listed on the NASDAQ ``over the counter'' market.

Currently, the company has 70 employees. In addition to offices in California, the firm has outlets in Boston, Chicago, and London and says it is considering opening branch offices in Atlanta and Dallas. Companies serviced by Scopus include K mart Corporation, US Bank, Andersen Consulting, and Rolm Corporation.

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All told, Scopus has about 100 clients, Sasson says. He adds that Scopus provides two essential and interrelated services: It enables its clients to provide better ``customer satisfaction'' as well as what Sasson calls ``customer centric'' information systems.

Take the case of an airline, Sasson says: Customers call in to the airline with questions and problems and want those problems resolved. Scopus designs a program that enables the airline to do that, Sasson says.

But in solving the problem, Scopus's automated system does something else: It provides the airline with vital information from the customer. That information, properly stored and made available to different departments - such as teams that put flight patterns together and buy aircraft, as well as accountants, publicists, and other management groups - allows the airline to better design programs for its customers.

Scopus began by working mainly with high-tech and software companies. It now targets firms in the financial sector, manufacturing, and telecommunications, Scopus says.

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