Today's businesses are faced with the reality of customers expecting and demanding more multichannel information and better service from call centers than ever before. Integrating call center service resolution management (SRM) into customer relationship management (CRM) can help companies retain both their call center agents and their customers.
For more background, please see Integrating Customer Relationship Management and Service Resolution Management.
Knowledge management (KM) is at the core of integrating CRM and SRM. KM software aims at helping to unlock the power of a company's knowledge to improve efficiency, competency, and profitability. It does so by providing an environment in which companies can, more quickly and cost-effectively, create a company-wide knowledge base to store and index documents and to more accurately search for the answers to user questions.
Currently, the key trends in KM tools enable companies to perform the following: 1) target their online information to reflect what is most likely to interest customers, and 2) maintain online forums where customers can share amongst themselves what they know about the company's products.
Hence, KM products typically fulfill two functions. KM accommodates self-service, meaning a customer can access a pool of public information that a company accumulates about itself, without the need for live assistance, to have his or her questions answered. Second, KM software helps call center agents to retrieve information from a repository that is often, obviously, larger than what is available to the public (since the aim of live assistance is the same as self-service—to answer customers' inquiries quickly and accurately, but with the preferred human touch).
The above considerations have marked a fundamental shift away from the time when any company could claim to perform a valuable service to customers simply by displaying information on its web site, without having to take into account who the customers were. Today however, virtually all companies must demonstrate their value to customers by segmenting information that is directly relevant to them.
Customer segmentation is not a new idea, since segmentation was supposed to be the way that—with the help of CRM tools—companies would offer the best possible service to their best customers. The problem with applying overt segmentation to customer service was that it then revealed a hierarchy that placed most customers at the bottom. This was so because, by definition, elite customers represent a small minority (the proverbial Pareto's 80/20 Rule).
The premise of segmenting customers reinforced the idea that customers existed to create value for companies, rather than the other way around. Using this logic, most (up to 80 percent) customers were of little value to the companies that they bought products and services from.
By contrast, the practice of KM helps companies establish a bidirectional relationship with customers that rewards them for sharing knowledge (their product and service use experience), and not only for spending money. The latest generation of KM software makes this possible by enabling the company to combine what it knows about customers and what customers know about the company, and to offer this information as part of the resources available on its web site.
As discussed in Making the First Call Count by Greg McFarlane, an astute KM software has to make it easier for agents to author new knowledge when new services, products, or upgrades are in place. This reduces the need for agents (especially novice agents) to escalate calls to the upper service tier. This decreases the costs and the lengths of calls, but more importantly, it gets calls answered more quickly. In addition, the diagnostic search functionality helps resolve customers' issues quickly and accurately with its ability to pull answers from any data source an agent can connect it to, thereby giving agents the right information at the right time. Lastly, the automation of key resolution processes enables new agents to get up to speed more quickly. By pre-populating case notes and pre-establishing workflows and other techniques, the companies can create an environment that allows agents to operate as effectively as possible, regardless of their experience.
With the addition of multiple channels and new technologies to support them, call center agents' job descriptions should become more interesting and diverse. When this occurs, several of the major barriers to call center agent job satisfaction, such as stress, repetition, and dullness, can be eliminated, thus resulting in greater retention. The customer service representative (CSR) might start to feel like a problem-solver rather than a mere document reader.
Agents might also feel more accountable for problem resolution, as they begin to follow problems from start to finish. For instance, a CSR can access and present solutions to problems from a knowledge base; create a service ticket; request repair services; note a complaint; process returned materials; issue a rebate, coupon, or refund; and escalate issues to other responsible parties, such as tier (level) two support, development, quality assurance (QA), or even third parties.
Customer satisfaction should, in turn, increase, as the number of disconnected handoffs between agents, customers, and channels are reduced. On the other hand, increased agent retention should improve the organization's domain knowledge, and as a result, the number of first-call closures should rise.
The Impact of Online Customer Service
Online customers are becoming increasingly demanding, since they want answers to queries quicker than ever before, and they want to be able to access services when it suits them—around the clock. No customer wants to be put (seemingly endlessly) on hold or escalated, or to attempt several different solutions over the next hour, only to be called back the next day. He or she wants the issue resolved as quickly as possible, either through self-service or by a knowledgeable agent at the other end of the telephone.
At the same time, web site design is maturing, and the average customer is becoming more computer literate, which means that customers are ready to be introduced to online self-service solutions. Many customers indeed want to be able to solve their own problems through self-support on the Web, since we are all “too darn busy, and who has time for lengthy phone calls.” Companies, too, are ready to embrace the benefits of self-help solutions, which offer the dual advantage of cutting the cost of support while improving the quality of the service delivered to users.
In the early 2000s, Forrester Research reported that it costs, in US dollars, about $33.00 to handle a customer inquiry by telephone, $10.00 to handle it by e-mail, and about $1.00 to deal with the question through an online self-service system. Furthermore, by 2010, Gartner projects that self-service interactions will account for 58 percent of all service interactions, up from 35 percent in 2005. Thus, the goal of self-service has been to drive as many inquiries as possible away from the telephone to the Web, which is less difficult than it might seem, because organizations usually find that about 12 questions will account for half the calls made.
An effective self-help system should allow users or customers to resolve most common queries on their own, but it should also make it easy to escalate inquiries to an operator through telephone, Web chat, or e-mail if users get stuck or their questions are more complex. Also, call center representatives can sometimes handle problems more productively over live chat than on the phone, since an agent can deal with only one customer at a time over the phone, but it is quite possible to simultaneously juggle a few live chat sessions with customers.
One should note, however, that different users have different levels of tolerance for the length of time they are willing to commit to self-service, which means the availability of live support is still a necessary option companies must offer. On the other hand, in a corporate setting, the company may want to discourage highly paid staff from using self-help for more than a few minutes, because it does not want these employees to be unproductive.
In summary, enterprises can provide customer self-service that reduces service costs, improves customer satisfaction, and facilitates the sales and marketing of products and services. Moreover, IT organizations can increase the effectiveness of employee help desk operations while decreasing internal technical support costs.
This is part two of the three-part series Integrating Customer Relationship Management and Service Resolution Management. Part three takes a look at the more specific benefits of CRM-SRM integration, and makes recommendations as to how companies should go about this process.
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