Originally Posted - December 14, 2007
To accommodate increasing customer demand for company and product information and for quick issue resolution, companies are now considering the benefits of online self-service systems. Knowledge management (KM) software is the key to such systems, as well as to integrating customer relationship management (CRM) and service resolution management (SRM).
For more background, please see Integrating Customer Relationship Management and Service Resolution Management and Knowledge Management: The Core of Service Resolution Management.
Bolstering Call Center (and Other CRM) Processes
The trend of customer service enablement and the nurturing of customer relationships (which have traditionally been the forgotten stepchildren of CRM) may be overtaking customer acquisition as a main driver of recent CRM deployments. Customer service has historically been provided primarily in person or over the telephone, with limited reference materials available for the customer service representative (CSR). This emerging business model assumes that companies that provide customer service over the telephone will find value in aggregating company knowledge by using the appropriate software, and will be willing to access the content over other channels, especially the Internet. The business model also assumes that companies will find value in providing some of their customer service over the Internet instead of by telephone.
In the past, customers would show a preference for a certain channel of communication with a company, but this is no longer the case. Customers now use several different channels available to ask for support and service and about upgrade issues, or to inquire about or request new products and services. And they expect to receive accurate, consistent information, regardless of the channel they are using. Service that does not meet these expectations is considered a waste of time, and a reason for the customer to seek out competitive offerings elsewhere.
The use of multiple channels for customer service and support, as well as the importance of consistent, accurate, and swift answers, is expected to only increase in the future. Companies are thus realizing that what their customers are seeking is knowledge (which is likely stored somewhere in the company, but more likely, scattered all over the company), and that these customers want it regardless of the channel they choose, be it telephone, Web self-service, e-mail, retail kiosk, or chat.
The logical question a company should ask itself is how it can provide customers with direct access to the knowledge they are looking for when that data may be residing in a variety of places. For example, product specifications, technical support, billing questions, and pricing and policy information can all be found in any number of places, such as CRM databases; legacy KM systems; frequently asked questions (FAQ) lists; intranets; content management systems; billing systems; or an automated response system. The goal here is to analyze the customer's problem, retrieve the information needed to solve that problem, and to do so in whichever contact channel the customer chooses. This process should not only minimize customer frustration and lower the cost of the support transaction, but it should also leave the customer delighted.
Although computer-telephony integration (CTI) systems do a great job at automating call routing and case management, Web sites have become ever glossier and animated, and CRM systems do a decent job of handling customer contacts (and possibly preferences) and product information, something is still missing to enable cohesive customer service. The plethora of new self-service technologies, such as natural language search engines, knowledge bases, guided navigation, user forums, collaboration, personalization, multichannel (e-mail, instant messenger [IM], integrated voice response [IVR], call centers), and so on, lead us to the emerging part of CRM software applications, specifically applications that enable customer service organizations to more effectively resolve service requests and answer questions.
What Service Resolution Management Offers
Built on KM and search technologies, SRM (not to be confused with supplier relationship management) applications optimize the resolution process across multiple service channels, including contact centers, self-service Web sites, help desks, e-mail, and chat.
An SRM system creates a knowledge backbone for the seller company by creating a single interface that pulls vital information and knowledge from wherever it is stored, whether it is in the CRM system, legacy support systems, search engine, Web site, document libraries, etc. It allows the company, as a business leader, to evaluate what processes are taking place in its support environment and to then determine how it would like those processes to be handled. With this, the company can guide users step by step through the process of answering their questions, applying the right process to each inquiry to drive the outcome it wants.
Service resolution systems enable the company to harness all the tools and knowledge it has already acquired to solve customers' issues, regardless of what channel they use to tell the seller company about their issue. These SRM applications have to complement, integrate with, and enhance traditional CRM areas like sales force automation (SFA), marketing automation, contact center, and help desk applications by providing knowledge-based solutions that improve service delivery. Although still an emerging software category, existing SRM customers include some of the largest companies in the world, and SRM products have reportedly enabled these companies to reduce operating and service delivery costs, improve customer satisfaction, and increase revenues.
Here is an illustration: A service call (customer inquiry, complaint, etc.) comes in, and the agent fields it by performing a search. A technical bulletin, written by a product manager and stored on a network drive, comes up in the query results because the knowledge base searches both structured and unstructured knowledge. This very issue has been documented, and a resolution has been built to ensure that an answer can be provided. A wizard pops up and prompts the technical support agent to walk the customer through a setup process. The new product can then be used successfully, resulting in a happy customer.
This is the type of service the customer wants and what support systems are really trying to provide—seamless service resolution, which can only be provided by effectively using and managing corporate knowledge (i.e., the knowledge of products and services; diagnostic troubleshooting; information stored in all documents on the network drives, intranets, and e-mail systems; and, most important, the knowledge of the customers and support agents).
The markets for KM and SRM solutions are still emerging, and it is difficult to predict how large or how quickly they will grow, if at all. Some companies have found that the productivity of customer service personnel initially drops while CSRs are becoming accustomed to using the software.
Self-service can cause conflicts, since it contributes to a general shift of control and resources away from the call center. Also, exposing some information can be risky. For example, logging complaints into the system and then displaying them on the customer portal can cause some users to regard giving out sensitive information as “hanging themselves." Resistance to the software by customer service personnel and inadequate development and maintenance of the system's knowledge resources, business rules, and other configurations have in some cases made it even more difficult to attract new customers and retain old ones.
Competition in the fragmented SRM marketplace is rapidly evolving and intense, and one should expect competition to further intensify in the future as current competitors expand their product offerings and as new competitors enter the market. One should also expect that competition will increase as a result of industry consolidation, which comes from the need for newer models of customer service, in which a single vendor provides solutions for both internal and external service, technical support, and search.
In general, it makes economic sense for companies to pursue an SRM strategy, since in the all-too-common scenario of using disparate KM, CRM, and search applications, despite all of the resources at hand, the customer is hardly ever provided with any resolution, except to take a look at the competitive offering (in disgust). Conversely, the scenarios in which an SRM approach is taken should enable the contact center agent to satisfy the customer's needs and increase the economic value of that customer to the organization.
By using advanced KM technologies, users can create a cross-channel approach to help automate service resolution in the enterprise, so that all of the valuable information in all of those disparate systems is tied together in one common knowledge platform, which is then made available to the agents, customers, and the enterprise. Indeed, it should not matter if a customer query comes in at the call center or at the help desk, or via e-mail, phone, or the web site, since the correct answer to the query should be accurate and consistent across all channels, and it should reflect the outcome that the selling company desires.
However, while the potential for self-service and SRM to reduce costs and improve service quality is indisputable, it is an extremely complex model to deliver, since self-service capabilities usually require multiple layers of technology across each service channel. Companies do best when implementing it in a step-wise fashion, starting with something as simple as providing answers to FAQs, and moving up to allowing customers to execute complex transactions (like changing preferences for a service) on their own.
Standardizing on a set of packaged CRM applications helps when integrating self-service and SRM across channels. Yet most companies will still need to buy best-of-breed "e-service" products to provide live chat, e-mail response management, customer search, and other key features needed for self-service over the Web. User companies must be prepared to make a reasonable investment in their transaction architecture in order to facilitate self-service and to handle the higher volume of interactions with customers.
Companies must also identify the metrics they will need to measure their self-service efforts. Though a service center is still largely viewed as a cost center, many traditional metrics are not appropriate any longer. A multitude of factors can impact a call center's key performance indicators (KPIs), and this is before any attempt is made to implement and deploy the multichannel call center agent concept.
Therefore, KPIs, such as average wait-time, first call closure rates, cost per call, and average call duration, must be closely monitored as the program is rolled out. These should all drop as the call center agents begin to successfully and uniformly manage multiple channels. For Internet-based systems, the proper KPI might be the number of transactions completed without a customer having to pick up the phone, while for an IVR system, it could be the number of customer calls completed without human assistance.
Ultimately, companies need to know if customers have found what they needed and if they have gone away happy. But answering these simple questions can often mean wading through a disparate mix of click stream data, e-service usage logs, CRM analytics, analytic reporting, and more.
Well-designed applications that are consistent with other self-service channels and that are integrated with assisted-service channels as required, such as the telephone or a live chat feature, are critical, not only for self-service adoption, but also for overall customer satisfaction marks. Self-service fails when it tries to anticipate as many calls as possible but ends up delivering hundreds of nuanced responses to the customer, none of which is quite right.
If customers choose self-service, they need to find it quick and easy to use, and their first experience should be positive, whereas the information available through self-help systems must be consistent, accurate, and up to date. If customers see an inconsistency between the answers on the self-help solution and the service they are trying to use, they will lose all confidence in the self-help approach, and will want live, human interaction (if the company is lucky enough not to have lost the customer).
Besides providing “handholding” assurances to customers, assisted service is a major source of valuable customer feedback, and no company should want to eliminate that opportunity for communication entirely.
This concludes the three-part series Integrating Customer Relationship Management and Service Resolution Management.
For more information and to start your own custom solution comparison, please visit