CRM and Agent Productivity

By Gideon Hollander

Despite the prevalence of CRM in the contact center – or more accurately because of it – there is a trend of consumer dissatisfaction due to increased average handle times (AHT), lower first call resolution (FCR), and impersonal processes .

One of the greatest reasons corporations experience increased AHT with the introduction of CRM onto the agent desktop is the fact that CRM was never designed for customer service interaction. Rather, CRM is designed for customer management. This becomes readily apparent once you observe the navigation sequences necessary to carry out seemingly simple customer support-oriented tasks, which usually involve moving through a number of screens, tabs, and drill-downs to reach the required information.

The real reason for these awkward processes is, in fact, quite simple: CRM was never built to talk to the customer.

Call Centers and CRM: Call center agents must to be able to move quickly through their user interface to address the needs of each caller. However, CRM was designed for sales and marketing reps that have different needs when interacting with the system and do not need to deal with the “real-time” nature of a customer conversation. In many respects, the call center industry was forced to adopt the CRM system, inefficiencies and all. It is safe to say that CRM systems create expensive customer conversations.

Recognizing its unsuitability for the call center, CRM vendors have begun incorporating functionality to make it more applicable for customer interactions. These changes have been incremental at best, however, and have not done much to solve the core issue.

Interestingly, the problem does not stop at complex and unwieldy system interfaces. The problem is more entrenched. Because CRM was designed for sales and marketing, it lacks the fundamental functionality that is required for a customer service interaction.

A customer call goes through a typical flow of “know me” (verification, single view of the customer, case management, and contact history), “help me” (solve the problem through knowledge management, optimized processes, and workflow) and “remember me” (note-taking, after-call work, kicking off back-end processes).

CRM handles only a few of those functions and even then at a cursory level. Instead, what the call center really needs is an agile approach that merges the best of CRM, knowledge management, and workflow, across multiple channels and multiple applications, to ideally service a customer interaction.

Two Options: So, to be pragmatic, what are the options? Your call center likely inherited the CRM system downstream from the rest of the organization, and we all know you cannot force changes upstream. Typical customization of a CRM application can be extremely cost-prohibitive.

Because of this, we see customers either adopting a unified desktop that incorporates the existing CRM system, or utilizing new adaptive user interfaces for CRM. We will explore both here.

The unified desktop space is not new. Instead of requiring agents to “alt-tab” among all the applications, re-key data into multiple screens, and generally fight the systems, the unified desktop provides a veneer over all these applications. This veneer gives the agent a single point of entry and interaction with all the underlying systems. It’s not hard to see why these are popular solutions. By streamlining the interaction through removal of redundant keystrokes and simplification (or automation) of other keystrokes, AHT is sharply decreased, and there is also a reduction in agent training time.

New technology has emerged that recognizes both the fact that an organization may not want to adopt a unified desktop and wants to simplify its existing CRM processes without a costly “rip and replace” solution. In essence, this technology allows agents to dynamically create new views and processes on top of the existing CRM system. The power lies in its simplicity and ease of use. This adaptive user interface layer allows an organization to assemble new CRM interfaces that mirror the optimal customer interaction process, all without requiring changes or customization to the CRM system itself. Best of all, there is no limit to the number of new user interfaces that can be created, and since it utilizes the underlying CRM system and data, no new silos of information are added.

Both approaches – unified desktops and new user interfaces – while highly effective, do not redefine the core function of CRM or address the inherent lack of functionality of CRM in the contact center.

Customer Service CRM: Entrants into the industry are rapidly carving out a new niche, Customer Service CRM. This space is defining what CRM means to the contact center and customer service in general. And, while nascent, we are starting to see trends emerge.

In order to effectively and efficiently service a customer interaction, contact centers need a combination of the following:

  • Contact management
  • Case management
  • Knowledge management
  • Unified channel management
  • Business process management (BPM)

It’s quite often the case that “less is more.” The contact center typically does not need all the functionality of a CRM system, just that which relates to customer contact and case information. They normally do not need a full BPM system, just that which allows them to manage transactions between the front office and the back office. Knowledge management in the contact center means a focus on returning relevant information in context to the call.

It’s “less” large systems and “more” focus on bringing together the best elements and functionality of various systems to create the ideal customer service experience. This is what customer service CRM is all about.

Gideon Hollander is the co-chief executive officer and founder of Jacada, a provider of solutions that optimize and improve the effectiveness of customer service interactions. Gideon is regarded for his strategic vision and innovation-centered leadership. Prior to founding Jacada, Gideon was part of the research and development team at Comverse Technology.

[From Connection Magazine April 2012]

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