Searching for the “Perfect” CRM

By Ike Mitchell and Jeffrey Howard

For many years, contact center managers have been searching for the perfect tool to support customer service delivery. Unfortunately, the customer contact center is often not always the primary focus of a corporate Customer Relationship Management (CRM) effort. Instead, field force management, email, customer analytics, and back office integration are many times the focus of CRM projects.

Although the contact center is frequently the primary customer interface, the contact center is typically not represented in the selection of a CRM package. However, the manager of the contact center should be involved in CRM decisions from the beginning to ensure that the center’s requirements and priorities are included in the decision criterion. From a contact center manager’s point of view, the aggressive goal of a CRM implementation effort is to deliver “perfect” customer knowledge, “perfect” corporate knowledge, and “perfect” service delivery.

CRM packages attempt to achieve “perfect” customer knowledge by deploying a data repository with object-oriented access to the entire customer relationship and contact history. “Perfect” corporate knowledge is addressed by institutionalizing business rules, processes, and knowledge and by providing tools for delivering this knowledge to the agent (human or computer) on a “just-in-time” basis. “Perfect” service delivery is delivered by providing both high quality and low cost service across all channels in a manner that “wows” and exceeds customer expectations. But what is the perfect CRM for your contact center?

What a Contact Center Manager Wants from CRM: Quantifiable improvements in cost and service performance can only be achieved if management “command and control” practices are in place. With this foundation, it is possible to evaluate potential solutions against the specific expectations contact centers have for a CRM tool, including:

Contact Tracking: The basis of a contact center is that customers require certain skills, not certain individuals. Thus, customer contacts are routed to groups of agents with similar skill sets rather than to individuals. This is where economies of scale come into play. Not only must the group of agents have the same skill set, they must also have access to customer interaction histories. A good case management tool allows any agent to handle follow-up calls from customers by allowing them to see the entire customer relationship, including contact histories (sometimes referred to as the “360 degree view of the customer”). Lack of a good case management tool often results in agents giving out their administrative PBX extensions for customers to call back for any follow-up work. This practice destroys reporting integrity and results in underreporting of the actual work done in the center.

Process and Knowledge Management: CRM systems today allow for just-in-time contextual delivery of processes and associated knowledge to the agent by integrating more corporate processes and knowledge into the agent interface. Companies are able to manage plan nuances through technology, allowing the CSR to focus on solving the customer’s problems. Many centers have achieved significant savings by using this feature to collapse small agent groups into fewer larger groups, thus achieving economies of scale. Skills based routing can be used to achieve a nice balance between matching agent skills to customer needs without destroying the economies of scale provided by the CRM’s institutionalized knowledge and processes.

Consistency of Information Across Service Channels: With the advent of the Internet and other self-service technologies, companies now find that they need impeccably consistent information delivery across service channels. Customers will utilize the service channel that gives them the most favorable treatment. CRM systems use the same logic and business rules engine on all service channels and enforce a discipline on agents who, in the past, may have had a more lenient approach to customer interactions than appropriate.

Inconsistency of channel information increases call volume in the contact center and destroys the integrity of the self-service channel. Similarly, multiple channels of service have placed an added burden of knowledge on the agent. A customer expects “the corporation” to know about all of their interactions regardless of how they were completed. Thus, a CSR handling a telephone call must be aware of that caller’s emails, faxes, sales contacts, and correspondence. New CRM technologies also use the same customer databases across service channels.

Multichannel Customer Contact Centers: For years, the handling of phone calls and the handling of correspondence (paper, email, and fax) was separated into different groups, most often under different management organizations. It is possible with CRM to achieve further economies of scale by combining all of the customer contact channels into a single organization. CRM combines the business rules, logic, knowledge, and process engines across service channels and enables a true multichannel contact center. CRM allows for many approaches to the conundrum of maximizing economies of scale while at the same time allowing for specialization in skills.

Customer Analytics: Best in class companies follow just-in-time processes and knowledge with just-in-time customer analytics. Customer analytics evaluate customer-buying patterns and probabilities to suggest, just-in-time, contextually appropriate cross or up selling suggestions. In pure service settings, customer analytics look at the entire caller relationship and push it to exceed expectations by suggesting alternate, approved courses of treatment, cost savings opportunities, and other “extra” customer support. Customer analytics provide the “wow” factor.

Acquiring The Perfect CRM Package: Contact center management must be involved from the beginning of a CRM acquisition process, preferably taking a leadership role. All contact centers should have an interaction inventory. Such a listing of all interactions handled by the center can be categorized as transactional-based or knowledge-based. Knowledge queries can be treated as a single interaction, the process being how knowledge is stored, retrieved, and delivered. Transactional interactions need to be mapped out with required data points identified and linked to each step. This will begin to document the databases involved in providing customer support and can often identify problems with “database of record” and legacy database issues. Associated knowledge should also be mapped to steps for just-in-time knowledge delivery. This transaction inventory can easily be used with the rows of an evaluation matrix and the vendor’s approach to each transaction as the columns.

Buyers who postpone this process evaluation will very often find significantly increased costs, since there are always process questions and mismatches that will stall a CRM implementation project. A change of scope is always more expensive than defining requirements up front and negotiating configuration and customization changes as part of the purchase contract.

One of the major challenges for the selection team comes when someone asks the question: “Won’t we save money by deploying an ‘out of the box’ implementation?” The simple answer to this question is that there is no such thing as “out of the box” CRM. Another major challenge is the perception by some that it will be too costly to customize the package to match all of the processes. While customization is more expensive than blind acceptance, it isn’t necessarily the hideous cost some might envision.

When service managers recognize that CRM is a process, not a technology, and recognize that such tools require continual care and feeding, contact centers often approach many of their “perfection” goals and deliver the “wow!” they are seeking through CRM.

[From Connection Magazine May 2007]