A customer relationship management (CRM) system that accommodates complex customer-facing processes requires four key factors to give the system a competitive advantage.
The first key factor lies in the application's ability to develop a complete customer profile that supports multiple business units and products. Service organizations need a wide range of customer data, including demographics, financial status, and current and anticipated lifestyle changes (for example, college-age children, retirement concerns, newborn kids, house or condo purchase, changing insurance requirements, etc). To gain a true understanding of customers' needs and wants, any interaction with them must be captured and analyzed.
For example, when a customer with a savings account inquires about a home loan, a full-service financial services company would want the customer-facing employee, whether in the branch or contact center (if not even an intelligent online software agent), to recognize that here lies an opportunity to cross-sell a home insurance policy to the client as well.
Having a complete customer profile enables users to quickly identify key attributes about a customer, such as whether the customer has multiple accounts with the bank, and therefore is a customer the bank would not want to lose. Naturally, customers are highly sensitive to how they are treated; they notice such things as whether their service institutions answer the phone quickly and recognize the customer when he or she calls, or whether the establishments answer questions astutely or resolve issues promptly. Also of importance is whether the institution provides rapid turnaround for specific offerings, such as new account origination, new loan origination, refinancing a home, and so on.
Most customer-serving institutions need software solutions that can deliver services that are personalized to the customer's needs. Take, for example, an insurance company that has many distinct lines of insurance products but no common customer database, leading to the disastrous result of several agents calling on the same accounts. Such disorganization is not only costly and inefficient, but it also creates a great deal of customer dissatisfaction, annoyance, and ultimately, defection. By implementing a unified solution to market more than one product to the right customers, the service company should be able to improve revenues while driving down the costs—and retaining customers.
The second key factor is that the CRM application should provide companies with the ability to customize their solution to address their unique business needs and evolving external requirements. In a dynamic business environment, the service enterprise must be able to sense and react, almost instantly, to changing market conditions. These conditions vary depending on whether they are caused by shifts in market structure, new competitive threats, micro- or macro-economic changes, or other factors. A company must also adapt to its users' needs, since not all users are alike; an adaptable system should provide a personalized interface for the user, based on his or her specific information needs. Ideally, the system should also be able to dynamically modify its behavior, depending on what the user is doing.
Financial industry enterprises—especially those competing with larger organizations—claim that they win and keep customers because they leverage their in-depth knowledge about the client to offer more personalized service. These clients do not want a cut-and-dried solution that looks and acts like the same CRM system that their next-door competitor uses. Rather, they want a flexible solution that they can tailor to their products, services, and business operations.
The third essential factor of a CRM system that accommodates customer-facing processes is that it should offer organizations the ability to adapt to customer and market changes, since most traditional enterprise CRM offerings require users to write lots of expensive, time-consuming custom code as part of their deployment. This often creates many problems, starting with most customers finding that by the time they have completed the development cycle and are ready to roll out the software, something in their business has yet again changed (such as a new, fierce competitor has entered the market; new legislation has been passed; the company is involved in a merger; management has decided to add or drop a new product line, etc.). Thus, these firms may find themselves stuck using their old model and needing to go through another long, expensive software development cycle to add the changes they need. On the other hand, customized environments can be very difficult to upgrade when the vendor comes out with a new release of its software.
The fourth factor is the CRM application's ability to integrate, in near real time, with other complex systems, and its adaptability to users' existing infrastructure. It is not at all uncommon to find dozens of systems in the service firm's back offices, all of which have data that needs to be integrated with the new CRM system. Some of these systems can even go back a decade or more. Many of these systems, although ancient in the IT timescale, still deliver mission-critical services reliably and effectively, day in and day out. Thus, a modern CRM solution must easily and seamlessly share data bi-directionally with these systems, using open industry standards.
As the first factor indicates, an adaptive service enterprise must be sensitive to ever changing customer requirements, and must foster an optimal customer experience by creating and delivering incremental services that customers want and are willing to pay for. This requires an IT infrastructure capable of seamlessly tracking and managing interactions across all customer touch points, such as the retail store, the Internet, e-mail, fax, the call center, etc.
Though CRM mega-vendors often want users to rip and replace their entire IT infrastructure with the mega-vendor's software stack, many clients view their legacy systems as mission-critical, and might prefer a CRM solution that will protect their investment by plugging into their existing infrastructure.
To be sure, services institutions live and die by the services and products they provide to fickle and demanding customers, and they need to be able to change direction quickly in order to meet competitive challenges or to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Only by deploying astute CRM technology will they be able to capture customer and market data, sense and understand how their customer segments want to be served, and be able to analyze and respond to changes in customer needs and wants.
Because CRM processes touch so many parts of a business, they can have a major impact on both cost and revenue. The improvement of sales and marketing processes can bring in new revenue, while call center productivity can drive down the costs of servicing customers, as well as present up-sell and cross-sell opportunities (and maintain customer satisfaction).
The business case for call center applications is becoming increasingly obvious, especially given the recently established National Do Not Call Registry in the US. The revenue driver will thus become inbound customer calls rather than companies trying to generate leads via outbound telemarketing efforts, which have too often proved to be annoying to customers, and ultimately counterproductive.
Contact and Call Centers Close the CRM Loop
Virtually all firms, therefore, have a strong need to share customer data across multiple business units, which can then enable them to deliver a wide variety of services to customers and enhance their ability to cross-sell or up-sell. Another driver is the need to enforce consistency across the enterprise. When a customer is talking with a bank, for example, the customer expects similar, consistent treatment, regardless of who he or she is interacting with (i.e., a call center person on the phone, via a Web chat, or face to face with a teller ), and regardless whether it is about a service complaint or a mere inquiry. The combination of customer information, dynamic scripting, and built-in process management must help to ensure this consistent customer treatment.
The contact or call center is constantly changing, and businesses need ever more powerful and flexible CRM tools that continually provide greater productivity, decreased costs, and enhanced service. Also, as many research and surveys report, companies have traditionally focused too heavily on technology in their contact centers, and have not paid enough attention to key customer service processes and performance measurement changes.
Service companies have been realizing more and more lately that there is a need to properly evaluate their customer-facing processes and to provide call center representatives with supporting technologies that allow them to execute processes that improve operational effectiveness. Only in this way can these companies increase customer satisfaction and generate new business opportunities. The integrated CRM and call center solutions have reportedly helped some service companies realize a remarkable return on investment (ROI), including a 45 percent increase in case volume (without increasing staff), a 35 percent decrease in time to resolve cases, and a 40 percent decrease in backlogged cases—all ultimately resulting in an 18 percent increase in overall customer satisfaction.
However, for various reasons, but especially because of the challenge of human resources, most call centers have yet to achieve this goal in earnest, and universally. This is because contact center agents' working conditions have traditionally been a far cry from ideal, as these employees typically need to “do more with less.” As the job requirements for agents increase, the challenge in meeting their performance goals also increases. To achieve these performance goals, call centers are increasingly harnessing technologies that have to track customer workflow, thereby providing more consistent and accurate answers to customer inquiries, seamlessly across all the channels.
Almost anyone reading this article has experienced frustration when an automated voice response system to which he or she has just dictated a lengthy account number (and plethora of other sensitive information) fails to transfer that information directly to the agent, who finally picks up the phone and asks the customer to repeat the information once again. This is not to mention the case of when a customer is (at long last) transferred to a specialist who, of course, wants to know the account number "before we get started." Also common is the case of the customer asking an agent to confirm if the information he or she has just read on the web site is correct, only to hear “Sorry, that's not right,” or worse yet, “Hmm … I am not sure. Sorry.” The chances of the agent solving the problem on the spot, and perhaps even upgrading the customer to a product or service that meets his or her needs, are then indeed slim.
Traditionally, agent turnover rates at call centers are fairly high, due in part to having to listen to customers' (justifiable or not) rants, complaints, and displeasure. As a result, call centers are constantly bringing new agents on board who need training before they are able to serve clients satisfactorily, creating a vicious circle of frustrated customers and frustrated agents. The pressures of dealing with furious customers, the need to do more with less, and dealing with rigid systems that are not even scalable or accurate, make the call center agent's life difficult. All these elements also impact the agent's ability to deliver on the call center's desired performance goals.
Implementing appropriate knowledge-based and intelligent search–backed solutions should enable the staff to share information more interactively. Such solutions can also allow staff to rank problem resolutions so that agents share not only knowledge, but experience too. The application should do this by itself, leaving agents the ability to effortlessly help one another and maintain a relevant, highly fluid body of information. When the root causes of problems change daily (for example, if a particular service application is down versus an entire server being down), an agent can see that several other agents have used one solution within the last hour that was the correct solution, which should increase the chances that it is the right answer for their customer call too.
This is part one of the three-part series Integrating Customer Relationship Management and Service Resolution Management. In part two, the importance of knowledge management is discussed, along with its relationship to CRM and service resolution management (SRM).
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