Back to the Basics — CRM in the New Millennium

Pause for a moment and let’s go back a few years. Remember the TV series “The Waltons,” with that wholesome cast of characters who reminded us of old-fashioned American values while they struggled through the Great Depression? Think about the friendly, concerned-about-your-needs general-store owner, Ike Godsey — he made everybody who walked through his doors feel as if they were a trusted confidante and a lifelong friend. Ike helped everyone by providing solutions that were sometimes out of the ordinary, but always based upon each customer’s unique needs. Customer relationship management in the new millennium, while much more complex and fast-paced, requires us to go back to the basics of business and re-examine what’s really most important — the customer.

CRM and its impact on the customer

Customer relationship management clearly has become the call center mantra of the day. While it is often misunderstood and discussed in overly complicated terms, there is a very simple way to describe it: CRM is everything you need to do to manage your most valuable asset — your customer.

To start, your CRM goals must be defined in customer terms, with measurable business results. For example:

Increased customer retention,

Improved customer satisfaction or

Increased convenience.

Then, whether it’s computer telephony integration, skills-based routing, contact management, multiple-channel integration technology, data warehousing or any of the other powerful technologies, every tactic you employ in your CRM strategy must have the ultimate value of enhancing the customer’s experience. How do you do this? Simply ask yourself two questions to test the viability of every CRM solution you examine:

“What’s the value of this solution to my customers?”

“What’s the impact on my customers’ experience?”

If you can easily answer these questions, the CRM solution is definitely worth examining. If not, move on or challenge the vendor to provide a solution that more closely meets the needs of your company’s unique value proposition.

People, process and technology

Undeniably, generating a revenue stream has become a driver for most call centers. An effective CRM strategy, however, must be viewed in light of the many changes related to people, process and technology, not revenue production alone.

First, agents must begin to look at the customer with an eye for opportunities. They should seek to provide one-call resolution to service inquiries and examine other opportunities to make the customers’ lives more convenient, relaxed, less worrisome, etc. Take the upscale clothier that sells cashmere socks for $59. Shouldn’t the customer who is phoning, e-mailing or chatting to check on the delivery date of her $600 chartreuse leather pants be invited to examine the luxury of color-coordinating cashmere socks for a mere $59? Of course she should, and it’s all in the name of providing a solution that better meets a customer’s need.

“And since, Ms. Customer, those pants are due to ship in two weeks, the socks could arrive at the same time.” The customer’s needs were met, satisfaction was achieved, loyalty was solidified, and the call center even made money. While this is simple in theory, it does require changing the manner in which the agents are trained. They have to learn a new skill set for examining customer opportunities.

Second, the process of sorting through all of the CRM matter must be evaluated and examined in relation to its viability in the call center. CRM should be viewed as a funnel where the many disconnected and disparate inputs converge to form a single, unified approach to meeting the customer’s needs. The CRM tools must be sought, reviewed and challenged in relation to their ability to help the agent profile customers, create a call strategy and hold more-effective conversations with customers.

Third, it is easy to get lured into buying glitzy CRM technology that promises greater profitability, only to have difficulty managing it on the back end. Take the banks, for example, that in the late ’80s and early ’90s invested in marketing customer information file databases, only to find that defining the algorithms for the profitability model was too complex for a marketing assistant to create. So they used the technology primarily for generating lists to mail to the top 10 percent of their customer base. It was a great tool that didn’t live up to its full potential.

The other side of the technology decision is matching the people to the technology. Too often technology is acquired with little or no thought about the skill level of the agents required to use it with customers. Some important considerations include:

Do the agents in your call center have the basic competencies to manage the new technology?

Do they understand or know what to do with the acquired data? If not, can they be trained to do so?

Do your agents have the necessary multitasking skills that have traditionally been hard to recruit or retain?

If they can be trained to manipulate the technology, will they have the desire to develop deeper relationships with their customers?

The moral? Strive to acquire technology that meets your needs strategically and tactically and consider the gaps that may emerge.

So you see, the vision of Ike Godsey isn’t that far off. Everything he did supported the enhancement of his customer’s experience. He had fewer customers and was the only game in town, but he also had fewer tools and no technology. Certainly, the ability to enhance the customer relationship has evolved dramatically, but the ultimate goal remains the same: to exceed customers’ expectations through an experience that is better than that of the competition. We do this through our people, process and technology. Why? The customer deserves it.

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