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Seven steps to a coherent CRM strategy.

CRM has become something of a dirty word in today's contact centers. Many companies have deployed large and expensive systems only to find that they are not reaping the promised benefits from their technology. So what happened? Why hasn't CRM created the smooth connection between customer information and decision-makers that so many of us expected?

The answer, I suspect, lies less in the technology (which is really very good) and more in the fact that contact centers haven't successfully worked through the strategic and process issues that would enable their CRM tools to really enhance the customer experience.


I think that most CRM existing deployments can be salvaged, and new ones ramped up to "success" more quickly, if the contact center managers guiding the process focus on understanding and documenting several core issues.

1. The customer access strategy. Few contact centers have this, but it's among the most useful documents that can be created. It is a map, or blueprint that describes in detail what the available customer touchpoints are, and how your company processes them inside and outside the contact center. It's the first stab many companies make at delineating responsibility for different kinds of calls and understanding where the gaps are. It is a critical snapshot of what your real situation is, and how your behind-the scenes processes are running right now, giving you a sense of where your CRM system is falling down or not helping the appropriate people get the information they need.

One reason that most companies do not have a coherent CAS document is because fully mapping out the customer interaction process often involves turning over a lot of unpleasant rocks and having ugly problems start to crawl out.

2. How siloed is your customer data? It's a pretty safe assumption that your contact center is sitting on a mountain of information, most of it used pretty thinly. The kinds of data that flow through a center include. typical call-related data from the switch; customer information from CRM and other backend systems; quality data from the recording system and QM tool; and agent performance data from workforce management and PM tools.

Each of these originates in a different piece of technology, and is often managed by a separate professional with divergent competencies and interests. And most often that management never takes the data outside the contact center itself and analyzes it in the context of other nuggets that the rest of the organization finds valuable (profits, revenues, customer churn, and so forth).

So from a CRM strategy point of view, you should be asking yourself: Can the constituencies outside the contact center that have responsibility for revenue generation account for how they use customer data? Are all the parties that could be using customer information actually doing so, and if not why not? The barriers are most likely not technological, they are likely cultural and managerial.

3. Are your metrics effective? In other words, do you have a working and standardized definition of what makes for a successful customer interaction? And is that definition shared by non-contact center parties? Is there agreement on the definition of success? If not, where is the friction and how is it affecting revenue generation and cost control? Also important, how often is the "success" criteria being met, and what is the process control enabling that?

Just as critical, is the metric that you're using to define success one that is going to reflect the value of the contact center in the eyes of senior decision makers? If you define success in terms of how many calls handled or how fast you answer them, then the CFO probably isn't going to be impressed. But if you define it in terms of costs reduced, or even better, customers saved or upsell opportunities converted, then you're on your way to executive happiness.

4. What is the exception handling strategy for negative customer interactions? Was it developed by the contact center as a way to mitigate negative call handling statistics, or was it developed by a corporate strategist to improve the overall customer experience? Your CRM strategy has to be built to understand why negative interactions happen, and to provide you with a fast way to intercede when things go wrong. That process for stepping in and fixing bad practices quickly is much more important than simply documenting what has occurred.

5. What is the process for measuring customer satisfaction, and has it been proven to generate statistically valid results? Most customer satisfaction survey systems are not accurate, and can easily be gamed by agents, supervisors and contact center managers to create the impression that customers are happier than they actually are. The CRM strategy may be built on a series of false assumptions about customer intentions. And you'll have better ROI from your CRM if you build it to find the problems, not just to validate your impressions about how well your reps are doing. This may be painful at first, but it always pays off in the long run.

6. What are the analytic capabilities of the quality monitoring system you are using? Have you leveraged the available tools to discern patterns in their customer base, with speech analytics or business intelligence tools, for example? Most contact centers that use analytics these days are paying attention to just one side of the customer call--the agent side. They ask the system if the agent is adhering to scripts, for example, or did the agent sound empathetic and polite. This is not nearly as important as understanding what the customer is thinking, saying, and what the customer intended next action might be.

7. What is your strategy for building processes to handle multi-modal customers that interact with you via multiple channels (e-mails, texts, mobile)? To what degree are these interactions segregated or intertwined and handled based on customer criteria (not channel criteria)? This goes back to the idea in point #1 that you should have a map that spells out what you hope to do with the different kinds of interactions that come in, and helps you understand where your gaps are (in staffing, or in customer satisfaction) for lower-priority modes of interaction. You may discover, through effective use of CRM that alternative modes of contact tend to cluster around higher value customer. That kind of data is more than just information, it's insight that if you can leverage it through smart processes and resource allocations, gives you a leg up on the competition.

Clearly, most of these ideas have less to do with technology or deploying tools with a particular feature set than with having a clear-eyed view of where you the contact center stands in the eyes of the rest of the company.


--Keith Dawson is principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan.
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Title Annotation:Headset
Author:Aawson, Keith
Publication:Customer Interaction Solutions
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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