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Are CRM systems failing to help us manage the customer experience?

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13th Apr 2012
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CRM databases are useful for sales or service management but are they really successful at improving the customer experience?

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There was a coffee distributor who had a customer phone up one day to buy some Colombian coffee. The distributor put her on hold, opened up his stock management system and discovered that they were out of Colombian coffee. Before giving the customer this bad news he checked in his delivery management database and saw that some Colombian coffee was due in the following day.

When he told the customer this, the customer explained that was no good, as she really needed some coffee for her café that day. So, the distributor put her back on hold, went into his customer management database to check what types of coffee he was authorised to sell her. He discovered he could sell her some Costa Rican coffee and, what was more, a quick check of his stock management database revealed it was in stock and his delivery management database revealed it could be delivered that day.

He happily relayed this news to his customer who, by now, was getting a little fed up with listening to hold music. She was pleased, though, to learn that her café would have some coffee to sell. She just needed to check the price. The distributor’s pricing database was frozen, so he put her back on hold while he went off in search of an old-fashioned catalogue. By the time he returned to the phone, catalogue in hand, the customer had hung up and gone to the supermarket to buy some coffee.

This is a story which is repeated up and down the country every day by people in every type of sector. It is a story that illustrates what is wrong with using CRM databases in contact centres and this is an issue that more and more contact centre managers are recognising and trying to solve.

The problem with CRM

"CRM database are useful for sales or service management," says Amanda Mone, business consultant at mplsystems. "They tend to have a wide range of functions and contain a great depth of information which can be built up over time and extracted before sales meetings or engineer visits."

She continues: "However, agents who are on the phone with time-pressured customers do not want to be opening screen after screen, searching through a host of pages to find the information they need. They need to have the information at their fingertips so they can resolve those customers’ queries."

The extent and depth of this problem is quite startling; Contact Babel’s 2010 UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide revealed that agents are able to resolve customer queries using one database on just 14% of calls, whilst 52% require 3 or more databases for a single request

The result of this is that customers spend longer than they want to waiting for their queries to be resolved. Calls take longer to be answered and first call resolution rates fall; it’s worth noting here that first call resolution is consistently ranked as the top attribute of good customer experience.

As Mone concludes: "Quite simply, while CRM vendors claim that their systems enhance the customer experience, quite the reverse is true; CRM systems are not well suited to the contact centre and, in a great many cases, actually damage the customer experience."

A new solution

Customer experience matters. Jo Causon, chief executive of the Institute of Customer Service, has said: "Firms that differentiate on the quality of their customer experience will be best placed to achieve their growth ambitions.”

She points to a recent study by the Institute as evidence of this. It revealed that 35% of business leaders think customer churn is one of the biggest threats to their success, 65% think customer experience is going to be vital in their fight against competitors and 64% are planning to invest substantial amounts of money into this function.

For some, that will involve investment in new CRM systems but, as we have already seen, those systems are not always effective at providing good customer experience. So, a growing number of contact centres are looking beyond CRM to customer experience management (CEM).

Mone at mplsystems explains: "CEM is a layer that sits on top of all the data in the CRM system and provides agents with a summary of the most important information such as outstanding payments, service issues and so on. The best versions look like a dashboard on which agents can easily see key information and where action points are highlighted." CRM focuses on customer data and automation of that data within the business, she emphasises, whereas CEM is about the customer engagement itself and enhancing this experience.

One business that has implemented just such a CEM dashboard is engineering support firm Babcock International. Its Education and Training business provides government-funded apprenticeships and technical training to a range of sectors across the UK. It recently rolled out a dashboard which would pull data from internal and external systems to tell agents precisely what they need at exactly they moment they need it.

This has not only enhanced the customer experience but also streamlined operations as Simon Barber, operations manager for the Contact Centre at Babcock, explains: "We wanted a system which could adapt to what we needed as opposed to us adapting to what the system provides. The system has made us significantly more efficient and increased our success rate by 30-40% just by enabling agents to talk knowledgeably to clients."

Even easier now

There is a genuine opportunity here. Mone comments: "Survey after survey shows that customers think quality of customer service provided by companies is not improving. Many feel it is declining which will be down to the fact that, to some extent, many companies will be struggling with expensive, cumbersome CRM systems."

But business requirements aren’t static; what if you need to change the way your application is used, add in new processes or change the way clients are dealt with? Take the coffee example, the distributor may need to introduce a new supplier and launch a whole new range of promotions. Is he going to need to involve his IT department to change the agent’s desktop, waiting weeks for the change to be implemented in the process? Or would the only option be to adapt his requirements to the CRM tabs available in the version he’s bought?

Neither are ideal scenarios but are ones which many contact centre managers are familiar with. Customer experience tools need to be flexible enough to enable contact centres to simply and rapidly create and modify their own desktop applications using a drag and drop, no coding environment.

If your competitors are failing to embrace the concept of customer experience, you have an opportunity to get it right and to gain market share.

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By johnstonph
13th Apr 2012 16:44

CRM is a database with a front end designed around old-fashioned customer acquisition and management - it was never designed for the call centre. We saved one customer almost a million a year in Siebel licences and integrated their call centre with their main business data.

When we redesigned the Call Centre using BPM (Business Process Management), we were surprised to find just how much people were paying for CRM features they didn't need or use. We were also surprised just how complex some people made the job for the agent - massive drop down lists, multiple screens and type and talk mean that the agent cannot concentrate on customer service.

We went a stage further than CEM, implementing customer intelligence as part of the solution. This ensures that the best information for that customer is available at every stage of the call, including predictive behaviour. This gave agents the right information to handle many more calls themselves without passing them to "experts" and allowed them to pick up where they left off.

We found First Call Resolution improved by 9% in a trial with a major telecoms company. This led to almost 30% fewer calls and much happier customers. We also reduced average handling time by 10% and agent churn fell significantly.

Peter Johnston

-- Head of Marketing at T-Impact - IBM and Avaya partner - expert in Business Process Management (BPM)

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