Keep Up With Changes in CRM

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Market research tells us that roadblocks on the phone, online or in other customer communication channels create a powerful and lasting negative impression. According to Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, nearly 4.8 million consumers, or 37 percent of online buyers, contacted customer service on the Internet in 1999. More than 40 percent of these online buyers stopped shopping at a site because of bad service.


While customer relationship management has become an integral part of the global direct marketing landscape, the ideal CRM partner continues to evolve. To an extent, external market dynamics have been setting the pace of change within the industry. Most powerful are the technology-driven competitive forces that are a direct result of the demand for greater access and improved delivery of products, services and information to consumers. At the leading CRM companies, steady improvement is sought, carefully considered and implemented regularly.


CRM is not about the hot new product or service of the month. Instead, CRM excellence is achieved from constantly seeking ways to build a positive customer experience.


There are a number of capabilities to consider before establishing a comprehensive CRM solution:


• Real-time chat and voice-based Web collaboration for e-business sales and service support.


• Intelligent e-mail management and processing, including automatic acknowledgment, priority-based queuing and automated response messaging for speedy replies to customer inquiries.


• Automatic call distribution and skill-based routing for voice handling and boosted service performance levels.


• Comprehensive contact management for tracking inquiries across multiple communications channels to enable consistent, superior sales and support.


• Alert notification services to contact your customers with timely information they request -- on the device they request.


Until recently there were two options for enhancing a customer's experience:


• Directly purchase the technology and incorporate it into existing systems.


• Outsource the entire function or functions to a third party.


Traditionally, the process for implementing an integrated CRM solution using existing systems is lengthy, requiring inhouse as well as external CRM information technology expertise and significant upfront capital expenses. For those without the time, people and money to fully outsource business functions to an expert third party, another option exists. An application service provider-hosted CRM solution is an alternative for companies seeking to add best-in-class technology expertise to their contact centers. This option provides companies with the ability to lease CRM technology from an ASP and run it from their own facilities with their own people.


Triggering this metamorphosis is the need to deliver world-class solutions without the high upfront costs, lengthy implementation time and ongoing maintenance expenses -- start-up obstacles that can significantly impact the operations/long-term revenue objectives of a company.


When seeking an ASP-hosted CRM solution, you should consider:


• Is obtaining a state-of-the-art CRM system quickly essential to your business objectives?


• Does the CRM provider have the ability to integrate the CRM solution into your legacy system?


• Will it be difficult to find CRM skill sets for your application development?


Approach the decision to select a CRM partner with the same determination used to build your business. A judgment should only be made after a rigorous evaluation of qualifications and experience. After you have taken the first step to determine whether an ASP-hosted solution is a viable alternative, consider the following when seeking a knowledgeable and reliable CRM partner:


• Has the CRM provider researched, tested and implemented the technology?


• The ability to provide custom integration into your legacy systems.


• Speed of deployment is critical to any hosting decision. An effective CRM partner should be able to "go live" within 30 days with a standard application setup.


• All software upgrades should be included in the agreement with the CRM partner.


• You should have access to your CRM partner's help desk so you won't need to hire costly, inhouse IT experts.


• Scalability to meet changing needs. At times, it's difficult to predict volume requirements. When you need additional stations, the CRM partner makes it easy to simply add more licenses.


• Ability to offer a co-sourced arrangement. Should additional people be needed to handle overflow or seasonal increases in contact volume, the co-sourced arrangement allows use of the CRM partner's staff and hosted CRM technology in conjunction with your own people.


• System availability. Anything less than round-the-clock support is unacceptable.


• Data security. Securing your data should be a top priority. Confidentiality agreements should be part of any partnership. Your CRM partner should also have networked backup systems in place in case of outages.


• A proven, experienced partner. Seek a partner with a strong and solid history and a record of growth. Make sure that partner understands your business and your industry.


The evolution of quality products such as an ASP-hosted CRM solution has led to a broader range of choices for businesses. By using these fresh and creative solutions for your CRM needs, you arm your company with a unique opportunity to improve the relationship that matters most -- the relationship between you and your customer.


•Tim Kowalski is president of iCT ConnectedTouch LLC, a subsidiary of ICT Group, Langhorne, PA, a global provider of customer relationship management services. Reach him at tkowalski@ictgroup.com.
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