Get a Grip on CRM to Reach Your Goals

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CRM is now more than a buzzword: It is a genuine phenomenon - an attempt by people inside and outside the call center industry to come to grips with two things.


It is an explosion in the ways customers can connect to a company (with or without a call center in the middle of that connection). And it's an acknowledgment that there is a need to manage the customer separate from managing the call, or the case, or the interaction itself.


But in the rush to push technology on an industry reeling from a decade of fast-changing tools and hyped concepts, many people are wondering what CRM actually is and where it fits into their actual call center.


So what is CRM and where do we find it? We cringe at this question. Every vendor in the marketplace wants to be identified with CRM. And that's because CRM is more a process than a clearly defined set of tools.


Let's begin with the obvious. CRM consists mainly of applications that control the customer interaction. These applications can be small and specific, like dedicated systems for e-mail routing and live-text chat (the Mustangs, Brightwares and Kanas of the world).


Some of these applications are larger, more suite-oriented. That is, they combine those specialty applications with more back-end functions that parse information on the customer coming out of the databases behind the scenes - applications such as Siebel, Clarify, Point, Quintus, Pegasystems, Chordiant. This is where we would have located most CRM activity a year or so ago. That's because these tools attempted to deal with the whole picture of the customer interaction, rather than just the call.


They tried, and they still try to establish a hierarchy of rules for dealing with customers based on the rules of your business, and then apply those rules logically across the various types of interactions, from voice to e-mail to fax and even direct mail response.


There are three complications that arise from this point of view. One is that you have to go outside the call center and include all sorts of other parts of the company, where different priorities exist and different ways of measuring success are in force.


The second is that in many cases logic and those rules didn't exist, so they had to be created from scratch or mediated between competing sets of rules created by different parts of an organization.


The third complication is you come to realize that CRM - as we first defined it - needs to touch and be touched by nearly every other existing call center technology. It's a set of applications, so it needs to talk to the switching infrastructure. It depends heavily on CTI middleware and all the specialty applications for screen-pop and connectivity that CTI brings along. It's extremely important to touch the front end, with its IVR and VRU and speech recognition and so on.


Any time you collect data, report on it and use that data to make some decision about what's going to happen with the customer, and by extension with an agent or a call, your CRM is going to come into play with your traditional technology.


That is why every vendor in the universe wants to - and will - call their product CRM. We're going to have to deal with the confusion and the technology headaches for quite some time. It might be helpful to look at this as the natural outgrowth of computer telephony.


CT was a developer technology; it was born from the desire of third-party companies to add applications onto closed switches. CT was the conduit between the computer and the phone system.


Now that we take that conduit for granted, we're faced with a multitude of applications that make use of the pipeline. They used to function separately, things like sales force automation and contact management and help desk software and telemarketing. Now they're all part of the same basket of customer contact issues.


As CT fades (and it should - never was there more hype about a more boring and transitional toolset than the '90s rave over CTI), this mania over the customer is taking its place. We think that there's a lot more value to worrying over the customer relationship. And instead of worrying about isolated pieces of technology, which was what CT was about, now you can worry about two more complex ideas:


• Isolated bits of information and how to make sense of different kinds of data about customers.


• Isolated processes for dealing with customers that are out of alignment. (By this I mean, for example, do you promise them one thing when they come to you by e-mail, and promise them something different when they call you on the phone?)


What CRM really boils down to is this: know where you want to end up, what the relationship is supposed to be in a perfect world and then work backward to decide what applications are going to get you there. And then bring all the tech components (in and out of the center) into alignment with that goal.
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