Provide a Unified Service Solution

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Nothing generates sales and customer loyalty more than great customer service. In the hyper-competitive world of e-commerce, solid product, consistent Web traffic and first-time sales are a good start -- but customer loyalty is the difference between life and death.

To generate this loyalty, many companies have been striving to create the ultimate online customer relationship management offering. Here's the blueprint for the next-generation CRM technology:

• Next-generation CRM must enable e-businesses to create an intelligent, unified view of their customers to launch proactive, personalized service offerings and marketing campaigns. Electronic CRM has to help e-businesses proactively sell, market and service clients via the Internet based on their personal needs and preferences.

• Analytical CRM and operational CRM no longer will be separate domains. Analytic insight drives customer interaction; customer interaction feeds analytic insight. Marketing, sales (e-commerce) and customer service no longer can be isolated functions within a company. Each department's actions affect how the other treats the customer. Information will be shared across organizations and acted on in real time, creating an optimized customer experience.

• Next-generation CRM will address a full range of customer interactions across all customer touch points, including the Web, e-mail, online chat, wireless devices and the telephone.

• As a result of the drive to succeed, e-businesses will demand that eCRM solutions be in real time, Web-based, integrated, scalable and have analytic depth and operational strength.

The role of the customer service organization is changing. No longer can companies support their customers exclusively with a call center or storefront. Customers demand access to companies at any time, from any place and from any channel they prefer. Successful businesses know that good support is the key to customer retention and strive to offer customer contact options from an increasing number of touch points.

In addition to traditional call centers, Internet customer service channels such as e-mail, frequently asked questions, Web-based chat services and Internet protocol telephony are all becoming important.

As customer service moves to new delivery channels and technologies, businesses often try to manage these departments and functions in the same way they managed the traditional call center. Unfortunately, the skills required and the processes performed by customer support professionals can be different. The key performance metrics and business objectives with which managers track and guide their business also can change.

The number of customer touch points has exploded, encompassing Web sites, e-mail call centers, catalogs, storefronts and direct mail, making it harder than ever to identify, acquire and retain profitable customer relationships. Success requires a detailed and comprehensive view of the entire customer life cycle, across all touch points and channels, from pre-sales to post-sales and support.

This pre-emptive and instantaneous resolution to issues eliminates the disparity between the quality of e-service and traditional customer service. The proactive approach to e-service also increases customer satisfaction through self-service and interactive Web pages by empowering customers to help themselves and, in turn, freeing customer service agents to handle priority and complex issues.

The new CRM model generates an integrated, chronological record of all outbound and inbound customer interactions, regardless of where they occurred. Each agent has immediate access to all interactions, such as phone conversations, e-mail messages, chat, etc. This helps an agent when a customer changes communication methods or when dealing with multiple contacts at one client.

At the same time, marketing managers who have access to service records can create programs that address the needs of customers on an individual basis. Sales agents can track the life of the product once it's sold, keeping an eye on the level of customer satisfaction and coordinating timely cross-sells and upgrades in the process.

The e-service piece of the next-level CRM enables companies to attract the broadest possible set of customers, regardless of the channel that they use. By extending their reach, e-businesses can deliver content in the manner that best meets their needs and the needs of all customers -- through the Web, phone or wireless devices.

Portals will present a "single face" to customers providing all the information, history and knowledge that customers need -- for purchase decisions, account management, or customer service and support. Outbound e-mail campaigns will support clients from marketing to sales and through to support with enhanced modules for automated, measurable and customizable outbound e-mail campaign management, enabling nontechnical users to generate campaigns quickly and easily.

As CRM evolves, it also will have a global aspect, enabling e-businesses to streamline and enhance their global support needs by allowing them to deploy one system worldwide supporting numerous languages within a single knowledge base, providing multilingual authoring capabilities as well as language detection functionality.

The next-generation CRM will redefine the landscape of e-businesses, providing a single, integrated solution that closes the loop of inbound and outbound customer interactions. E-businesses will be able to upsell, cross-sell or simply better sell, service and market to each customer based on his personal needs and preferences.

• David Milam is executive vice president of marketing at Broadbase Software, Menlo Park, CA Reach him at
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